Tokyo Godfathers

I have to admit, I do love this time of year! The snow on the ground, all the Christmas decorations to look at, and houses with lights to see. And, since I'm so close to New York, a visit to Rockefeller Center and the big tree is in order this year! There is one other thing that is kind of a tradition come Christmas time... Mostly for us otaku. There is actually a Christmas movie for the anime fans out there, and it comes from my favorite anime director, Satoshi Kon! It's his comedic masterpiece, Tokyo Godfathers!

In Tokyo, three homeless people's lives are changed forever when they discover a baby girl at a garbage dump on Christmas Eve. As the New Year fast approaches, these three forgotten members of society-- mid-aged alcoholic man Gin, high school runaway girl Miyuki, and former drag queen Hana-- band together to solve the mystery of the abandoned child and the fate of her parents. Along the way, encounters with seemingly unrelated events and people force them to confront their own haunted pasts, as they learn to face their future together.

First and foremost, I have to point out that this film is directed by Satoshi Kon..... Yes, THAT Satoshi Kon. The same one who directed Perfect Blue, Paprika, and Paranoia Agent. Now, you're probably thinking, "This is completely different than from what he's known for!" Well, that's only partly true. If I had to pick three themes that Kon is well known for, in his work, it would be psychological horror (duh), fantasy blurring with reality, and satire. Those last two are what's important to know going into this film. In the case of fantasy blurring with reality, there are quite a few moments where our three homeless characters have some kind of escape from real life. For example, early on in the film, Gin tells Hana his story about how he was a bicycle racer who got caught in a scheme, ended up in debt, and his wife and daughter ended up dying. In reality, Gin had gambling debts so he ran away, leaving his wife and daughter. And here's the kicker, he and his wife own a bicycle shop. ZING! Although people will see this as more like a lie, if you consider other moments such as Miyuki's dream and Hana's desire to actually be a mother, you can see where this theme can really come into play. Most of all, we have the fantasy of the loving family raising a newborn baby versus the reality of three homeless people finding an abandoned baby and taking care of her. Point is, when I say fantasy, it's not in the fantastical sense a good amount of the time, instead more about the characters distancing themselves from their current reality by creating their own fantasy they wish to live out.

Now, although, the fantasy and reality theme is in there, it's the satire that really brings out this film. Many Westerners may not know this, but Kon actually loves to use satire in his work and poke fun at Japanese society. Tokyo Godfathers isn't the first to do this, either. Millennium Actress and even Perfect Blue have some satirical moments, and, even after Godfathers, Paranoia Agent and Paprika also had humorous moments. However, I feel, this film has the most use of satirical language and societal themes out of any of his work. Not only that, but it may be one of the most mature anime films that uses these themes really well and is able to translate to people around the world and not just Japan. As part of a "Making of" DVD feature, Kon sat down for an interview and explains:

There were no cultural boundaries.... People say animation has limitless potential. But the same person will say, "This isn't fit for animation." It is the people in this industry that force boundaries onto animation. In the end, it's all about the cute girls, robots, and explosions to them. That's not right. Movies like this exist and work. I want more and more artists to create unique stories in animation.... Basically, I believe that a movie is entertainment, but my concept of entertainment might be different from others.

Since the film follows three homeless people, on the surface, it doesn't seem like it could succeed. When you see those satirical moments as well as it's heartwarming ones, then the viewer can see and understand what the film wants to accomplish. But what else manages to make this film so successful?

The only way this film manages to move it's story along is through pure coincidences that are all, instead, called miracles. From the time our three characters find little baby Kiyoko to the time the film reaches it's end, every new piece of development in the search for Kiyoko's parents, as well as in the development of our main trio, all happens through the most convenient of coincidences. There are times where those coincidences can be rather over the top for the sake of comedy or may annoy the viewer who may start to ridicule it. However, the viewer needs to keep in mind that this film is riddled with satire. Even though the many coincidences laced in the film can be the most cheesy and cliched moments you may ever see, those same moments add to the humor of the film. But not all coincidences are corny. There are some that can be rather beautiful and heart warming, giving a nice balance to those humorous moments in the film. 

Why do I say that this film is perfect to watch around Christmas time? Well, aside from the obvious "it takes place on Christmas" argument, it's because of the message it brings. This is a story about the power of miracles that are given to us every day. Throughout the entire film, Hana refers to Kiyoko as a messenger of God and that she brings miracles with her. If you want to get overly biblical for a minute here, you can compare Kiyoko to baby Jesus and our trio of Gin, Hana, and Miyuki to the Three Wisemen in the nativity story. It may be a simple comparison, but it manages to work as a sort of parody! And I'm not trying to dismiss anyone's religion, nothing like that. I'm actually Catholic myself. But this is something that's actually rather familiar to me (thanks Sunday school), which others can also pick up on when you really think about it. But, probably, the biggest reason this film is wonderfully appropriate for the holiday season is because of the miracles. Christmas time has always been referred to as the season of joy or the season of miracles. At it's core, Tokyo Godfathers is just that: a film about miracles. When you look at other films with miracles as either a theme or some kind of plot point, more often than not you see either comedies, romances, or Christmas movies using this method, and this film uses two out of the three. When you couple this with the most unlikely of easily likable characters as well as the humor, you have a recipe for a beautiful film.

Tokyo Godfathers is an outstanding film that is a prefect watch for otakus during the holiday season. It combines the traditional themes of the holidays such as family and the power of miracles, but it also has it's own flare because of the perspective it's being told from. When you are someone who has lived with nothing for a long period of time or are a person who hasn't lived all that well, more often than not those very people search for a miracle. Although our trio aren't actively looking for one, they still manage to get one and each of them end up happy. It doesn't matter if this film was made in Japan and has Japanese culture in mind, because it's themes are what really translate to everyone across the world. And, with the season of cheer coming in, Tokyo Godfathers is a film, I believe, should be among other Christmas classics regardless of what people may see on the surface. You never really can judge a book by it's cover.


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