VOD film review: Tokyo Godfathers
How mad the closing credits are9
How Christmassy it feels10
Ian Loring | On 24, Dec 2021
Director: Satoshi Kon
Cast: Toru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki, Aya Okamoto
That we only got a handful of films from Satoshi Kon, who passed away in 2010 aged just 46, is one of the great crimes of animation history. With staggering efforts such as the under-appreciated thriller Perfect Blue, whatever Kon turned his hand to was usually gold, so it’s a treat that we got a Christmas film from him in Tokyo Godfathers. A film that truly has Christmas running through its very core – with the bitter and the sweet that comes with the season – it is quite something.
The tale follows three homeless friends, all with very different pasts, attempting to reunite a baby found among the trash of Tokyo with its mother. Kon envelopes this seemingly simple plot with sadness and regret, with the age old adage that Christmas is a time for people to come together, to forgive and forget and try to make the next year a better one. But he does so in ways that constantly make you laugh or reel from a revelation you didn’t see coming – all done with an offbeat style that remains constantly engaging on a visual level.
The film wouldn’t work as well if it weren’t for the eponymous Godfathers, however. Gin looks like your stereotypical homeless drunk, hair all over the place and slovenly in appearance, but he has a soulful side where life’s habit of death by a thousand cuts put him on the path he’s on when we meet him. Hana (who it’s fair to say may be deemed as problematic today) is a cross-dresser with a heart of gold who only has eyes for the baby they find. Miyuki is a teenage runaway with a secret. All three come together through the inherent good found in all of them, which is focused and magnified by the presence of the baby.
Whether it be coincidence or not, this baby puts them all on the road to redemption as they get tied up with gangsters, almost get killed quite a few times and also end the film as better people. It’s got a very Christmassy vibe, even if many of the events and conversations betray that on the surface.
Kon’s keen eye for detail makes this Tokyo a cold, lonely place, one that looks both close to ruin in some parts and futuristic in others – it perfectly encapsulates the haves and have-nots within the cast of characters. Special mention must also be paid to Keiichi Suzuki’s score, a playful bit of work that indulges in the ridiculous events transpiring on screen, but makes its mark felt when things get real.
Tokyo Godfathers is a fantastic “alternative” Christmas film but it’s one that captures both the hope and the loneliness of the period pretty dang perfectly. While it may not be one for the whole family, get some egg nog and a fire going and it’ll get you in its melancholy mood easily.