It is Christmas time in Tokyo, where the unfortunate truth is that the homeless still have to manage their lives. The story focuses on three of these homeless people: Gin, a 40 year old alcoholic with a rough attitude, Hana, a homosexual who used to be a drag queen for a small bar, and Miyuki, a teenage runaway girl who fears of getting arrested. Despite their troubles and their conflicting attitudes towards each other, they are good friends who stick together and help one another to manage living on the streets. On Christmas Day, while looking through a garbage heap, they find an abandoned newborn baby, with no name and its box containing a note wanting the finder to take good care of the child and a locker key. Despite Hana arguing to take care of the now named baby Kiyoko themselves, they all agree to use their first clue to find Kiyoko’s missing parents, and along the way confront their hidden pasts to discover how they ended up on the streets, why they are who they are, and if they find a way to leave their problems for good.
This was Satoshi Kon’s third film after Millenium Actress, which he directed and co-wrote with Wolf’s Rain creator Keiko Nobumoto. At the time it was his most expensive production, with a 300 million yen budget. Apparently it was inspired by a late 40s western film called “3 Godfathers” but for some reason I can’t find any other information about the history of this film. It first premiered at New York’s “Big Apple Anime Festival” and then theatrically premiered in Japan on the 8th November 2003.
The animation for this is strange; it doesn’t look strange but it doesn’t make sense. At some points, particularly early on the animation looks really lazy, with almost no movements or effort for a realistic effect, and at a few points it’s really good, including some really fun action scenes being really fast paced and eye catching. The film also tries to add the comedic style of conventional anime TV series by making the characters have some really goofy facial expressions, mainly Hana which is fitting because her character and personality have a lot of comedic ideas for him. The art style is very fitting with the characters we have, Tokyo is dark and grim even in daylight, a fitting representation for city life and living homeless, and the winter effects are minimal, to give a realistic setting of a winter season. The opening sequence is unimpressive; I see the clever effect of using signs and billboards for the credit text, but it comes completely out of nowhere, and it doesn’t show any sign of interest.
The music is unusual, even for a Satoshi Kon film, unfortunately Susumu Hirasawa, who did Millenium Actress and Paprika, wasn’t involved in this film. To be honest, Keiichi Suzuki does a good job creating a high quality score, but I’m not sure if it is really fitting. The opening theme is upbeat, happy and fits the comedic aspect of the film, but right before was a calm melodramatic piece, so when it cuts to this it’s really out of place. The other music is ok, but like I said, it doesn’t really fit. The accordion pieces do sound sweet in some scenes, and one of the flashback scenes have unsettling, so I think it’s either a minor nit-pick or poor sound mixing.
The voice acting in the Japanese version is very good; Yoshiaki Umegaki gives a masculine voice in a feminine tone for Hana, Aya Okamoto acts like a defiant teenager, but with a subtle soft side. Tōru Emori does have the rough, wasted guy attitude, but for the most part is pretty weak. They didn’t use an actual baby for the voice of Kiyoko, but Japanese seiyū Satomi Kōrogi does at least sound like a convincing baby, and this is coming from the voice of the Pokemon Togepi. For one moment in the film there are Spanish dialogue sequences, which I do admit is well implemented in the Japanese dub. Sadly there isn’t an English dub, so if you want to watch this, then get use to reading subtitles.
I have no idea what kind of film this is; it does have a good amount of funny moments, well-timed and in some cases very subtle in design, yet for a storyline about three homeless people wanting to take an abandoned baby to its parents, the film doesn’t treat itself as a comedy.
There are a lot of serious and dramatic dialogues which are used to explain the three main character’s back-stories, Miyuki’s is much less than the others, but the way they show her back-story actually makes the most sense out of all three. She ran away because she is scared of being arrested by her father, who’s a police detective, even when they are worried about her and want to come back. Gin kind of makes sense, since it’s understandable why he couldn’t face being a terrible father, although I don’t get why he had to make an elaborate story to hide it. What the trailer says about Hana is a lie; her past is in no way amazing. He lost his boyfriend, and soon after attacked a rude and heavily drunk customer for insulting him, but why that meant she ran away and became homeless I have no idea.
What bothered me the most about this film is that there are some points which aren’t explained, one example being the whole sequence with Miyuki being taken hostage by a Spanish crime member, who shot this guy while attempting to assassinate this executive at a party, which you’ll need to see the film if you want to understand what went on to lead to that point. While it is clever how they set the dialogue so that Miyuki doesn’t understand what he or his wife are saying because of the language barrier, it’s clear that it was there to set up Miyuki for her back story, and nothing from the scene is ever mentioned again. The film has a really good twist near the end of the film and the finale ties up some loose ends very well, but the very ending is anti-climactic and finish with a weird and out-of-place credits animation.
Would I recommend these film fans of Satoshi Kon? Yes, why wouldn’t I, it’s close to his style of story and animation. Would I recommend this to anyone else? Probably not, at least not until you see his other works.
Tokyo Godfathers is available from Sony Pictures Entertainment.