Written and Directed by Satoshi Kon
Voice work by Tôru Emori, Aya Okamoto, Yoshiaki Umegaki
Review by Jordan
“I always wanted to die drunk in a nice, old house. I’m halfway there.”
There are many distinct and equally culturally significant tones embedded in Japanese animation. Most films yearn for the spirit of freedom found only in the secrets of nature, being lost to time by industrialisation, while others employ fantasy as a metaphor for human perseverance and see time as an interconnecting (and at time disconnecting) thread.
Then, there are the films of Satoshi Kon, tied not so much by theme but an unequalled style that the famed director worked zealously to create; his intellect jumping from the page to the screen in images of lasting meaning and vibrancy. His four feature films reside in a league all of their own, not because they’re glaringly better than other films in this genre, but because they’re simply incomparable.
Tokyo Godfathers, released in 2003, six years after Perfect Blue forced us to consider the true nature of identity in an invented, violent reality and three years before Paprika tapped-in to the unhinged imagination of dreams, is perhaps his most broadly appealing film, though still far from a traditional Christmas staple for the whole family.
Moving to a rhythm part moody blues and part improvised jazz that has even the cityscape itself bopping along, the story follows three homeless people living on the streets of Tokyo, who discover a ‘Christmas miracle’ in the form of a baby found buried in a pile of rubbish and (reluctantly for some) set out to find its parents. Being a Satoshi Kon title, each of the three homeless friends offers an insight into the incontrollable events that saw them cast aside from society, which we (and they) want to believe as tragedy but realise were in fact lies covering up the worst traits that reside in us all: selfishness, ill-temper and dishonesty.
In understanding the drivers that are keeping each other from turning a back to life in a cold, lonely gutter, instigated by the warm presence of a mysterious baby that has welcomely invaded their routine, there is a sense of purpose and optimism instilled in their lives; the encouragement needed once their quest goes from one unbelievable coincidence to the next.
The reliance on luck to push forward the story is not a laziness as in other movies, but pairs with the fable-like sensibilities and forms the moments of the most humour. Though very good, Tokyo Godfathers is not representative of a master at the height of his craft, but rather a writer/director displaying a desire to make his audience laugh and care, while treating them to animation both evocative and accessible and characters Hana, Miyuki and Gin, who are the complete opposites of our expectations.
Then, there are the haikus to enjoy as well.