It's Christmas Eve and three homeless friends have experienced their own Christmas miracle: while rummaging in a dump for a Christmas present, they discover a newborn baby. Despite having nothing, the three take the baby in and name her Kiyoko, meaning Pure One.
They embark in search of Kiyoko's mother, based on the little they know about her from her meager belongings. But the night is young, and the city is vast. Before they know it, these three become entangled in a series of events including kidnapping, death, and a mysterious red envelope.
Kind transwoman Hana, runaway teenager Miyuki, and belligerent Gin make an unlikely trio as they care for the baby and try to find where she belongs. By finally looking toward the future, they are also able to confront their pasts, coming just a little bit closer to finding their own place in the world.
I started watching this movie knowing little more than that it was directed by Satoshi Kon, and even though I'm a fan of the man's work in general, I must say I was pleasantly surprised.
STORY - In brief, Tokyo Godfathers is a heart-warming Christmas story about family. Slightly elaborated, it's a rather unique slice-of-life movie featuring a less-than-average family. Sure, inspiration was taken from an old western film (3 Godfathers), but I haven't seen it, and I don't think having seen it would have affected the charm of this one. (Other than the bare bones, the details of the two movies are vastly different anyway.)
Though thoroughly punctuated with reminders of how hard life can be, the movie was fun, comedic at times, and pretty darn feel-good, reflecting the general optimism associated with the winter holidays. It was uplifting, meaningful, and potentially relevant to people from all walks of life. That said, there were a lot of situations that felt a bit contrived and overly corny. For a destined-to-have-a-happy-ending story like this, a few coincidences here and there are completely expected and can even be cute. But there's a line somewhere and after a certain point, it starts to get a bit silly. (How many characters do we need to be coincidentally named "Kiyoko"?) I'd say that Tokyo Godfathers crossed this very vague line -- maybe not by much, but it was crossed all the same. I guess I can only take so much cute before I start groaning.
The main theme of this movie is the importance of family, which is a huge shift from Kon's usual work involving diminished divides between fantasy and reality. Even so, there are little indications of the man's handiwork woven carefully into the backstories of the individual characters, which I found interesting. After all, you don't immediately think of hobos when you think "family values," but the homeless might be among more believable subjects for those who may want to disassociate themselves with reality. It was subtle, but I really think Kon did a superb job blending the two themes together, and that was just what I needed to tide me over.
CHARACTER - The characters were definitely the highlight of the film. The three protagonists were all wonderfully in-depth, but I never got the feeling that their complexity was being flaunted or that they were throwing it in our faces. Gin, Hana, and Mitsuki are all introduced as fairly ordinary people, which makes them easy to sympathize with and easy to relate to, even for such unconventional characters as Hana. They were all troubled people -- a deadbeat debtor, an okama with AIDS (implied), and a teenage runaway, all homeless and living in a tent in the park. But each character's personal issues were presented in gradual fragments, and there is enough ambiguity and deception to keep you wondering. That scores big in the realism department with me; after all, you don't really go around dumping life issues on people, even if they're your friends.
Throughout the movie, each of our three godparents struggle with their personal issues, even as they all deal with the immediate crisis involving the baby. But despite the fact that the baby problem was very pressing and is the main storyline, it's hard to miss the gradual development in the characters. There are short, solo scenes for all the protagonists scattered throughout the movie, and that's where some of the coincidences start mounting. Tokyo is a huge city, and I found it a little ridiculous that so many relevant figures from the characters' past should appear in such a short time, but I realize that those situations are hard to avoid, if not impossible. All the same, I really enjoyed each character's maturation, especially since so little was actually said in two out of three cases. That made everything seem all the more poignant. For some reason, even though I thought Miyuki's runaway story was a bit "Wait, what?" I could sympathize with her all the same.
The main trio aside, the other characters were more roles within the story than actual characters. Sachiko was a little over the top for me, and her husband a bit predictable as well, but that's okay. The other support characters more than make up for them. The yakuza guy was entertaining, and the Hispanic hitman intriguing, not to mention the raving, crazy, old hobo. They're as good as minor characters get.
ART & ANIMATION - Tokyo Godfathers was a gorgeous, gorgeous movie, but I wouldn't have expected or accepted anything less. Seriously, there wasn't much not to like here visually. The characters were all distinct, memorable, and animated. Expressions were rendered with impressive realism, and the scenic city background was beautiful. I especially loved how the snow and light rail were handled, as well as nighttime city lights. The realness of the city really resonated as well. We do see a few prominent landmarks like Tokyo Tower, but pretty much all the buildings looked like they could have been real. The big city feeling really came out perfectly. It was kind of nice to see a few trademarks of Satoshi Kon's style as well, including that a stout, self-important man, and that one creepy, old guy. They're Kon's white doves.
MUSIC - Average in that I-don't-really-remember-any-of-it way. The final melody that played with the end credits was nice though.
VOICE ACTING - I saw this movie subbed, and it was lovely. The cast for our three protagonists all did great; the emotion was clearly there. I was especially fond of Yoshiaki Umegaki, who voiced Hana. I suppose I'm always impressed with those that do well playing less traditional roles, but it was a very believable portrayal. And... the baby cry was too believable. I don't like babies much, but even amongst the baby lovers of the world, I'm sure there is a general consensus that the noise they can make is incredibly unpleasant. I almost muted this movie so many times because oh, snap, there is a lot of baby wailing in this movie. Oh well. More realism points?
The inclusion of a few Spanish-speaking characters in the movie was a nice surprise and scored some multicultural points. I like Spanish a lot and even though I probably wasn't the best student of the language, I understood well enough without subtitles (I guess KAA hadn't been prepared to sub Spanish). They used real Spanish-speakers too, so it actually sounded like Spanish instead of some strange, garbled Supaniishu. Yay!
OVERALL - Barring a bit of partial nudity (exposed breasts for breastfeeding), I think Tokyo Godfathers is an excellent family film. The story is pretty straightforward and easy to understand. All the traditional elements of a Christmas movie are there -- inspiration, hope, good deeds, strong relationships, family values, feel-goodness, and a happy ending -- but the rich characters that Satoshi Kon brings into the mix really makes the difference. So yeah, even with all the silly little coincidences that move it along, I really enjoyed this movie.
From the creator of Perfect Blue comes Tokyo Godfathers.
Story: This story is about 3 homeless people (a washed-up father/husband, a homo, and a runaway teen) during the Christmas Holidays. The story gets going when they find an abandoned baby at a dump site. Even though one of them wants to raise the baby himself, they knew that they couldn't, so they go on a search for the baby's parents. As this search goes on, they start to learn about each others past's and we see how it ties into the present.
While it may seem like a pretty straight forward concept, Kon Satoshi manages to fully
utilize it by putting all these twists and turn that keeps the movie exciting. What makes the story so special is how Satoshi manages to portray the homeless urban hood and how he cleverly ties everyone's pasts together. So if a funny, compelling, heart-filled story is what you're searching for, then look no further than this.
Animation: For a movie made in 2003, the animation is very solid. Style-wise, there is nothing spectacular about it. It doesn't differentiate itself from other anime like Mind Game or Dead Leaves does, however, what makes it so appealing is all the detail it has when presenting urban Tokyo. A lot of work must have been done to try to represent the homeless.
Sound: There really isn't much to say about this. There weren't really anything that gave a huge impression; however, all I can say is that the music really fit the movie. Its one of the reason why movie stayed exciting
Character: Probably the best aspect of the movie was the characters. The first thing I want to point out is the realism. While they may be "weird" characters, their situations are really similar to society today. I can see a teenager running away from home. I can see a washed-up husband/father becoming homeless. Another fascinating thing about the characters is the growth that they go through. Because of this baby, we see the subtle growth of each character and the bonds between them becoming tighter.
Overall: This was a surprisingly good movie. It is a great addition to a Christmas holiday collection. I haven't been glued to a movie like this in a while. Now I am definitely looking forward to his latest work Paprika.
What else can I say... This movie had a great storyline, a huge unexpected twist near the ending, held mystery from the very beginning, had very witty humor (I caught myself laughing out loud many times), characters were well introduced, it was rather heartwarming as well, family-focused, gives definition to what life truly is, pacing and story progression was really good, art was outstanding, I really have to say that I enjoyed this movie A LOT. Made me remember the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future but twisted it up a bit. This was a remarkable movie. I recommend it to everyone. I added
this to my list of favorite movie animation, this is currently ranked #3 for me. (1. Toki Wo Kakero Shoujo 2. Spirited Away)
The holiday season is finally here, and with the holidays always come the festivities. Shopping, spending time with family, decorating the Christmas tree, cuddling with loved ones alongside the soft embers of the fireplace: these are all the ideals of a perfect Christmas. After all, there's nothing more to love about Christmas than the gifts or the food, right? Well, maybe if you're a middle-aged salaryman. To our three protagonists, they'd just be happy if they could find a leftover bottle of booze in Tokyo's garbage dumps.
Little did they know that they were setting themselves up for a wild goose chase to find not
only the mother of an abandoned baby, but also to rediscover the homes they thought they had abandoned for good.
Tokyo Godfathers tackles the age-old message of the irreplaceable bonds that family members have with each other, no matter how withered they may seem be. It certainly isn't the first film to express this theme, but by no means does this mean that you should ignore this amazing piece. The journey of our runaway, transvestite, and alcoholic protagonists progresses excellently without any scenes that seem drawn out or boring. Each development occurs with great timing that kept me engaged with the story at every single passing moment.
However, it is with these exact developments that a flaw of Tokyo Godfathers becomes glaringly apparent. To put it bluntly: the protagonists rely on an astounding amount of convenient "coincidences" during their adventure through Tokyo. There is enough to the point where I wonder if the writers put them in for pure comedic effect, and if this is true, then it sure did work on me. However, these coincidences are not necessarily a mishap on the writers' end. The conveniences are part of the underlying theme of God looking equally favorably upon every single person, whether a high-ranking official or a bum living in the slums of Tokyo. After all the misfortune or mistakes in each protagonist's life, these coincidences are supposed to show them actually getting a lucky break for once in their lives. Yet, some of these coincidences stretched the truth just a bit too far, taking away the sense of reality in an otherwise real-world setting.
An unexpected area that stood out the most was the witty humor. This movie is simply excellent in its delivery and timing; I found myself ranging from chuckles to bursts of laughter for a great majority of the film. The comedy never felt forced at all and fit perfectly as small detours along our protagonists' journey. After all, how boring would an adventure be if it were just a straight, smooth road without a little spice?
Besides the one gripe I had with its plot, Tokyo Godfather shines brilliantly in every other area. There is a great amount of attention to detail in every single background, which allowed me to immerse myself into every passing moment of our heroes' expedition. Each character has a wide variety of facial expressions that had me cracking up from their reactions alone.
The soundtrack streamed in expertly with every critical point of the story, especially in the movie's dramatic moments. The music works as transitions from the film's comedic scenes to the climatic scenes and vice versa, sometimes even breaking the mood to get in another nice chuckle from the viewer.
Each protagonist has his or her own background that led to his or her current state as a homeless city bum, and each of these issues are superbly fleshed out and developed alongside the central quest of the story. None of their previous circumstances came as info-dumps; they were integrated very naturally into their adventure, allowing the viewer to learn more about each protagonist while they themselves learn more about the truth behind the baby in their arms. Their interactions feel genuinely realistic with humor mixed in that doesn't come off as forced but rather as part of each person's characterization. As stated before, humor is a huge factor in this movie, not only for pure enjoyment but also for introducing each character.
Tokyo Godfathers is the perfect film for those starved for more Christmas-themed anime. If you're like me, you'll grab a couple friends and family and share plenty of laughs under this lovely holiday season.
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