To kick off the Christmas season, we begin the holidays by looking at Satoshi Kon’s underrated dramatic masterpiece Tokyo Godfathers.
Part of the joy of being a fan is finding odd and obscure gems that you end up falling in love with. For every Batman, there is a Darkman. For every Star Wars, there is The Black Hole. Here at Fandom, we like to go hunting for some offbeat and off-the-wall films and TV shows that might just become your own secret treasures. Strap yourself in and expect the unexpected, because this week’s Weird Watch is Tokyo Godfathers! (Last time: Freddy Got Fingered)
Satoshi Kon is a legend. The late visionary director is responsible for some of the most unique and controversial Japanese animated films in history, and many viewers of Kon’s work are still studying his filmography today. For anime fans films like Perfect Blue, Paprika, Millenium Actress and the short segment of the anthology movie Memories titled Magnetic Rose are definitive works of the genre. Even the TV series Paranoia Agent is considered to be a masterpiece of cinema.
There is no doubt that for the short time Satoshi Kon impacted the animation world until his tragic passing in 2010 he was a brilliant storyteller and director. There are very few others like him out there and the films he left behind are a snapshot into one of the greatest creative geniuses ever to come out of Japan. Just about everything he did gets high praise and credit in fan circles, but the one film that always seems underrated and overlooked is his deeply personal drama Tokyo Godfathers.
What is Tokyo Godfathers?
The film opens with a homeless trio living on the streets of Tokyo. A young woman, a grizzled middle-aged man and a transwoman have come together to form a small dysfunctional family. Each of them have a past that led them to where they currently are, and over the course of the film we learn about their histories and how they wound up living on the streets. Before all of that happens though, the group stumble upon an abandoned baby one night while picking through a pile of trash.
This certainly doesn’t sound like the typical Christmas movie, but nevertheless Tokyo Godfathers is a dramatic and moving piece of cinema that is visually brilliant as well as being genuine and emotionally sincere. Once the main characters named Miyuki, Gin and Hana find the child, they name it Kiyoko and begin to care for the baby as if it were their own. Soon they are led down a path of discovery when they try to find the child’s parents. As is common in most Satoshi Kon stories, violence and conflict soon follows and our characters practically have to go through hell to accomplish their ultimate goal of returning baby Kiyoko.
Who are the characters?
Tokyo Godfathers boasts a story that follows it’s main characters through event after dramatic event. There are plenty of supporting players that show up during the course of the film, but just about everything that happens in the movie occurs around the main protagonists. The young woman Miyuki is a struggling youth who fled her home after an altercation with her father, and the older man Gin basically left his family in shame. They are two very well developed characters who each have their own sad pasts to reflect on.
The past-her-prime transwoman Hana might just be one of the most complex and tragic characters Satoshi Kon ever wrote. She is a former drag performer who lost her partner to a tragic accident and left her life on stage due to a violent outburst. Hana is the character who shows baby Kiyoko the most love and will do anything, even when it means risking her own life, to save and protect the child. The saddest part of her story is that by the end of the film we are left wondering about her physical health and whether she will live much longer after Christmas.
The Christmas Spirit
Tokyo Godfathers is the tamest and most conventional film that Satoshi Kon ever made in regards to narrative and surrealism. Many of his films wound up sharing elements of storytelling that film masters like Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini used. There are very few supernatural moments in Tokyo Godfathers compared to something like Perfect Blue, but Kon does use a few scenes to imply that a greater power is at work guiding these characters along their journey.
The story of the lost baby Kiyoko is sad and hopeful. These characters do everything they can to give all they have for this defenseless child, and with that model Satoshi Kon presents the viewer a bold story of giving unto others despite all odds. This film addresses some subjects that many audiences might find offensive regarding Hana especially, but it isn’t a movie meant to sugar coat anything. Tokyo Godfathers is a real, gritty and honest story that is still very relevant even today. This is one that will make you thankful for everything this holiday season, especially family.