This review is part of the 2010 Reverse Thieves Secret Santa Review Project. More information about this project is available here.
When Satoshi Kon died earlier this year it didn’t really hit me as hard as it did many others. I hadn’t actually seen any of his movies before then. A few hours after news of his death broke, I had the chance to watch Perfect Blue, and after doing so I decided to watch any of his movies I could get my hands on. Since I am history’s greatest procrastinator (proven by the fact that I waited until the 23rd to write this) it wasn’t until a few months later that I bothered to buy Paprika and Tokyo Godfathers, and even after that Tokyo Godfathers just sat on my shelf until just shortly before I started writing this. It’s a pretty big coincidence that my Secret Santa anime ended up being something I was planning to watch, and that I even had it on DVD already. Coincidentally, it’s also a Christmas movie. That’s a lot of coincidences.
Tokyo Godfathers tells the story of a trio of homeless people living in the streets of Tokyo – the aging alcoholic Gin, the transvestite Hana, and the runaway teenage girl Miyuki. One Christmas Eve, while rummaging through some garbage, they find an abandoned baby along with a note saying to take care of it. Despite Hana wanting to keep the baby for herself, desperately wanting to feel like a mother, the group decides to use the clues they found along with the baby to find her parents and return her to them.
One thing that makes Tokyo Godfathers an entertaining film is its ability to find humour despite some of the sad and tragic things going on in the story. There are absurdly silly things like a Yakuza boss having his car roll over him and getting stuck because a fat lady bumped into it on a snowy hill, and the running gag of our homeless heroes narrowly avoiding horrible deaths through what could only be acts of God. Despite whatever tragic events the story throws at you, it’s always willing to just have a good laugh every now and then.
This is good since there are no shortage of sad characters or events. One that stands out in particular is Gin, a person so ashamed of his past and how he became homeless that he lies about it. It’s hard not to feel sympathetic for these characters as you watch what they have to go through every day. It’s even a little uplifting to see that despite the things these people have to put up with they’re all still good people. They have their flaws for sure, but deep down these three homeless people are easily some of the kindest characters we’re introduced to in the film. It also makes you appreciate how easily one could end up in their situation. All three ended up where they were through very simple means. There were no crazy circumstances that drove them to living on the streets, it was just one simple event for each one that landed them their.
Tokyo Godfathers certainly stands out amongst all of Kon’s works as being the least complicated and most straightforward. It doesn’t contain most of the things that he’s remembered for, namely his ability to blur the lines between what’s real what isn’t. But I wouldn’t say this is a bad thing, quite the opposite really. The complete departure from everything one would expect in a Satoshi Kon film is what makes this so memorable. It really shows what an amazing director Kon was, that he was willing to abandon his own normal methods and create something entirely unexpected. It’s a simple movie to be sure, but it plays off of a person’s preconceived notions of what a Satoshi Kon movie should be and ends up being a really fascinating piece of film.
There’s a bit of interesting art direction taken with the city itself. During daytime scenes the colour in the artwork consists of mostly greys and other dull colours that make Tokyo seem cold and unwelcoming, which it certainly would be to a group of homeless. Daytime is when “normal” citizens of the city who regard them with disdain go about their day, and our heroes clearly don’t belong here. The opposite approach is taken during nighttime, when Tokyo is lit up with colourful lights and signs, making it seem more lively and welcoming. Again, for a group of homeless people nighttime is when they can feel relatively safe from the judgmental eyes of people. It’s a unique way of presenting the world and succeeds in putting the viewer in the mindset of the heroes, making those colourful and vibrant night scenes a welcome sight.
Tokyo Godfathers really is a great piece of film, and easily my favourite of Kon’s films. It has a cast you can really sympathize with, and a great, heartwarming story that celebrates the kindness that people are capable of, no matter how bad their situation. It showcases just what a talented director Kon was. Like all of his films now though, it leaves you with a feeling of regret that we’ll never get to see just what he could have done if he continued on making movies. I highly recommend checking this one out, along with the rest of Satoshi Kon’s works.