Tokyo Godfathers

Original Title: 東京ゴッドファーザーズ
Release Date: November 8, 2003
Director: Satoshi Kon
Screenplay by: Satoshi Kon, Keiko Nobumoto
Cast: Aya Okamoto, Toru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki, Hiroya Ishamaru

Life is a funny set of coincidences. Before you realize what’s happened to your life, you’ve found people who in the same moment they fulfill you break your heart. Such is the life of three homeless people living in Tokyo: Gin, a man living in the shadows of his past, Hana, a transwoman who wants nothing more than to give all the love she’s stored up in her heart to someone who’ll love her back, and Miyuki, a runaway with a secret that keeps her angry and closed off to even the smallest signs of affection.

On Christmas Eve in Tokyo, the lives of these three impoverished people get up-rooted when they discover a crying baby on their daily dumpster dive. While Gin sees a chance at some form of redemption and Miyuki sees nothing but a thorn in her side, Hana instantly feels the need to protect and nurture.

Gin’s sense of patriarchal duty leads him to demand that Hana give the child over to the police. However, Hana’s instantaneous love for the child pushes her for something more substantial, something with more meaning – she insists that they find the child’s mother. Miyuki, meanwhile, is just sick of always feeling like she’s the leftovers of two adults’ unsorted tribulations, a remnant of somebody else’s life. With nothing more than a scrap of evidence leading them to their desired destination, whatever that may really be, the three “godfathers” set off on a Tokyo adventure that’s equal parts rescue and self-revelation.

While Tokyo Godfathers isn’t necessarily the most incredible anime to come out of the Mecca of animated storytelling, it does consider subjects that many live action films dare not touch: transexuality, a father’s failures, and a runaway’s demons. However, where this film falters is in attempting to tackle all three of these elements at the same time.

The pace of the film is breakneck, to the point where anyone not fully invested in the lives of the people on screen may find the chaos not only underwhelming, but frustratingly difficult to follow. Satoshi-san is one of the most forward thinking artists of the genre, creating art that warps the senses and forces the viewer to absorb the emotion in every frame.

For the record, he’s also one of my favorite directors, creating the mind distorting universe of Paprika and the heartache and self-loathing of Paranoia Agent. As far as the film’s direction and story, you can literally reach out and touch Satoshi-san’s influence. However, his cerebral take on filmmaking seems to shadow the heart of the film, which there is a great deal of. The tenderness of some of the sequences literally squeezes the anguish right out of you. But by the time you reach the end, you’re left wondering exactly what you were supposed to take away from it.

In the end, Tokyo Godfathers is another piece of visual and conceptual artistry, but the depth that Satoshi-san wants you to reach in order to connect every aspect of the film may be a bit too far for some to grasp for.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Part of the 2012 LGBT Blogathon.


As unexpected as my path was to loving all things weird, more unexpected is my ability to get attention for writing about the stuff.

2 Responses

  1. amy says:

    I think this may be a challenging film to watch for animation fans who are used to fantasy and sci-fi… and loads of actions, which is what the animation “genre” has been used for to avoid budget and imagination constrains xD

    But if you’re a fan of Asian dramas and the like, your only hurdle would be to warp around the idea that animation isn’t just for kids. I have a feeling that kids would be a bit bored watching this…

    But I gotta say that I had an immediate liking to this bunch of outcasts. xD Specially Hana-chan.

    • Camiele says:

      @amy, I adored Hana. And there were moments where this film really touched me. I think that the “problem” that I found with it is that Satoshi-san is such a cerebral director that as much as he put into that script, it may have just been bogged down with too much at once. I think the overarching theme here is forgiveness (forgiveness of self, forgiveness of those around you, etc.); however, there were so many elements involved and so much of Satisho-san’s work is built on layers, that all the layers just overwhelmed each other and it’s easy to get lost as to what you’re really supposed to focus on here.

      But I agree with you. It’s a shame that animation is still seen as a lesser film genre. If people aren’t ready to accept it as a way to let your creativity fully blossom without constraints, then I think they’ll continue to have a hard time grasping what’s so special and imporant about anime. But, like, it’s been around (in America, at least) since the 80s. How much longer is it gonna take for peope to get that animation is just another aspect of film making? Sucks, I say!

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