Tokyo Godfathers

September 19, 2004 on 1:27 pm | In Tokyo Godfathers | Comments Off on Tokyo Godfathers

If enough coincidences converge, you end up with a narrative. Tokyo Godfathers is the ultimate in miracle movies, based almost entirely on the momentum of random events and chance encounters. The energy and free flowing nature of the story make for a truly enjoyable film.

On Christmas Eve, three homeless people – a middle aged man, a disgraced transvestite, and a run away teenage girl – find a baby as they fossick in the trash. Caught between taking “Kiyoko” to the police, keeping her or finding her parents themselves, they embark on a frequently hilarious and sometimes touching Christmas/New Year adventure.

The three homeless represent all walks of life (well, three), and have their own reasons for not having homes – mixtures of pride, shame and fear. Gin, Hana and Miyuki make an unlikely family unit, but that’s exactly what they are: a family. Again, they all have their own reasons for being in this group, and for taking in the baby rather than going straight to the police. Their choice to search for Kiyoko’s parents leads to a series of increasingly unlikely events and further transvestites.
Kon’s way of story telling lends itself very strongly to the art of spoiler, so to say exactly what the three get up to would take a lot of the fun out of the movie. The unexpected nature of everything and how it all fits is just one part of the joy. The huge amount of divine intervention is guaranteed to make anyone happy.

Kon Satoshi seems adamant that he’s not going to make the same anime twice; three completely different films make up his present cinematic ouevre, not counting the projects that he did production work on. Kon has not embarked on this film with his previous writing partner, Murai Sadayuki, instead joining chief Cowboy Bebop scenario writer Nobumoto Keiko in creating this significantly different, yet still warm, movie.
It would be very easy to be annoyed by the way everything happens: the proximity of such totally unlikely events can wear down one’s patience in the wrong frame of mind. Two things must be remembered: this is how movies work, and there is a greater power in force. Laughs, joy and a few tears are wrung out of this system which is smooth and shows no signs of contrivance.
The film isn’t entirely unrealistic: some of the obvious harsh sides of being homeless are shown, and there would be no emotional impact if the characters didn’t have some sort of reason for being on the streets. The action packed finale deals with what is actually a quite serious issue.

Tokyo Godfathers is neat, but not entirely so. There are a few threads, but everything is looking up come the final scene. Ultimately, it’s a film designed to raise a few questions but to mainly make the viewer feel good (and not in the horrible “I’m glad I’m not homeless” way). Whatever it is that Kon set out to do, he succeeded. It’s hard to pin this movie down as any one thing: it’s the ultimate friendship movie, it’s the quintessential holiday movie, it’s a rollicking action comedy, it’s a brief foray into the world of organised crime. It’s really a little bit of everything, a beautiful whole.

Visually, Tokyo Godfathers is what you’d expect of Kon, while being nothing like his previous works in presentation. Gin and Hana have been on the streets for years and look rough, but Miyuki looks like her health hasn’t failed her yet – she’s just become a lot skinnier. The world isn’t divided along the lines of the beautiful and the ugly, the rose and its thorns. Everything makes up a part of the world without seeming out of place or set to too high a contrast. On a couple of occasions the lines blur when things seem just that little bit more unreal – there is a character who lives in squalor in his own home who isn’t taking any sort of realistic approach to life, so he doesn’t appear like a real person for the time when he doesn’t have himself together. It’s a very short part of the film, but it’s really quite noticeable.
The rest of the film is filled with nice, easy to miss visual gags and interesting cuts (although, of course, not the free flow editing of eras present in Millennium Actress). Kon’s films are again not just interesting on a story level: they’re really quite fun to watch – the faces that the Tokyo Godfathers pull are excellent evidence of this.

Come December, if there really is a place for the “Christmas Movie”, Tokyo Godfathers needs to hit big (the decision to release it on December 29 2003 in the US was decidedly odd). This movie is filled with “Christmas spirit”, a spirit that has nothing to do with either Jesus or commercialism. It is a perfect “season” movie, capturing the true essence of good will towards men (and women, and transvestites).

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