It’s Christmas time! Snow is turning Tokyo into a white city. Somewhere in Shinjuku, there are three energetic homeless people: Gin (an alcoholic), Hana (an ex-drag queen) and Miyuki (a runaway girl). The holy night is about to witness a memorable encounter as they discover an abandoned baby girl in a pile of garbage bags. Anime auteur Satoshi Kon has crafted a quaint, heartfelt, holiday movie with Tokyo Godfathers. This is also one of the rare pieces of anime that I will review here on Japan Cinema that is suitable for the whole family.
This makeshift family of bums scavenge to survive, but do not steal. Like many families they say tough things to each other, but love is there. They have honour and know what is right. The film gives a face and a voice to the homeless who rarely have either in the media, in Japan or anywhere. It’s a touching movie that, like the best animes, transcends the limitations of the genre. Satoshi balances everything splendidly, occasionally guiding the mush into humor, or fantasy, or noirish realism.
The film’s narrative concept may not be as high-falutin as Kon’s previous film that I reviewed on here, but it is nevertheless pretty unique, and a terrific setup for delivering universal humanitarian messages. The film is stunningly animated in traditional 2-D, which seems to have been enhanced by computers. The level of detail is impressive, of cars going by, facial expressions and backgrounds. The lighting adds depth to the visuals. You do not often see this level of artistry. As the credits roll and the buildings dance to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, you know you have discovered something different. I rather enjoyed the art style, especially the faces.
Some bold creative choices were made on artistic and thematic levels. Tokyo Godfathers deals with important issues, such as abandonment, isolation, regret, moral fortitude, family, forgiveness and hope. This is a sophisticated, warm anime. Quite frankly, its nice to get away from the space cowboys and rocket launcher showdowns every once in awhile and this film is a refreshing change of pace. I am also aware some of my readers have kids and hopefully the kindness, humor, and easily amusing personalities of the three bums and the near-zany turns of events that occur later in the film will keep children moderately interested in what is a particularly intelligent family film. However only the older audiences will be able to appreciate a smartly directed and lovingly animated story about hobos.