Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Directed By: Satoshi Kon

Screenplay By: Keiko Nobumoto; Satoshi Kon

Cast: Tooru Emori; Yoshiaki Umegaki; Aya Okamoto; Satomi Koorogi; Shouzou Likzuka; Seizou Katou; Hiroya Ishimaru; Ryuuji Saikachi; Yuusaku Yara; Kyouko Terase; Mamiko Noto; Akio Ootsuka; Rikiya Koyama; Kouichi Yamadera

Language: Japanese                                                

Genre: Action; Tragicomedy

Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

Satoshi Kon’s Christmas tale Tokyo Godfathers is a heart-warming story of three homeless people in Tokyo finding an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve. The film follows them on their miraculous misadventures as they try to locate the babe’s birth parents.

Gin (Tooru Emori) is a middle-aged alcoholic man, Hana (Yoshiaki Umegaki) a former drag queen and Miyuki (Aya Okamoto) is the teenage runaway staying with them. They are a makeshift family making their way on the streets. In a bid to find a suitable ‘Christmas gift’ they rummage through the items abandoned by people and in that rubbish, they find a baby. Hana is ecstatic and seeing it as an apt Christmas gift, names the baby Kiyoko which means ‘pure’. Hana does not want to return Kiyoko, after all she was abandoned. She wishes to raise the child, which for Gin is unrealistic considering their circumstances. In their journey to return the child, they cross paths with yakuza, foreign assassins, worn out taxi drivers and dysfunctional people who are striving to live.

Right from the opening sequence, Kon fuses the Nativity narrative into the film. Much like St Joseph, Gin is a foster father, reluctant he might be but his concern for Miyuki, the baby Kiyoko and his own daughter, coincidentally also called Kiyoko, is present. He and another homeless man (Ryuuji Saikachi) are attacked by the local delinquents who do not see any point in ‘trash’ living around the city. The lack of space to exist itself mirrors the Bethlehem inn’s lack of accommodation.  

Kon emphasises the idea of the found family and yet also acknowledges the fact that while the traditional family set up might be flawed, it can still be worked around. At every point that Hana stresses that she would like a family of her own, she equally backtracks and believes that things must go back to how they are supposed to be. This might be because she has been conditioned to accept a certain idea of the family. Yet every moment of the film reiterates that a found family is just as important.

Tokyo Godfathers explores homelessness with heart. People end up homeless for various reasons. Financial instability may be one part of it but it could just as well be because they feel let down or abandoned or the guilt surrounding their actions make facing up to the realities of life hard.

The animation style veers between realistic and exaggerated realism much like the story which while set within tragic circumstances is moved along through moments of humour and miracles. The kind of miracles that could happen in daily life but here all the miracles come together to make it a touching and oddly hilarious Christmas story.

The Tokyo in the title is a reference to the other main character of the film. A silent, passive presence; the city fuels homelessness through market action and yet attempts to and sometimes fails to provide a haven to the homeless.

Kantara (2022)

Directed By: Rishab Shetty

Screenplay By: Rishab Shetty

Cast: Rishab Shetty; Sapthami Gowda; Kishore; Achyuth Kumar; Pramod Shetty; Shanil Babu; Prakash Thuminad; Manasi Sudhir; Naveen D Padil; Swaraj Shetty; Deepak Rai Panaaje; Pradeep Shetty; Rakshith Ramachandra Shetty

Language: Kannada                                                 

Genre: Drama; Action; with Supernatural elements

Run Time: 2 hours 30 minutes

Set in a fictional forested land called Kaadubettu, Kantara fuses myth, magic, horror and the supernatural in a film that is a commentary on land politics. It starts with the story of a king who looked for peace and comfort and found it in a forest god. However, his descendants looked to soothe their greed by taking back the land bequeathed to the gods and the people they protect.

Shiva (Rishab Shetty) the son, of the erstwhile Bhoot Kola performer, who disappeared during a particularly charged performance, carries trauma from that incident. His response to it? Distance himself from his calling. He and his friends are known as the vagabonds of the community. He participates in the annual Kambala competition, goes hunting and generally lives a free life. He also seems to enjoy an easy relationship with the benevolent landlord Devendra Suttooru (Achyuth Kumar). Despite his unwillingness to fulfil his calling, he does enjoy the respect of the community who knows that whatever his antics, he is the one to turn to if the people need help.

The primary antagonist seems to be a rigid forest officer Murali (Kishore) who wants the forest protected and puts a stop to animals being hunted, bursting firecrackers for celebrations, and people cutting wood. Now, all of this sounds perfectly reasonable but forest communities have practised sustainable living for centuries. The aim is to live alongside the land, the animals and not in opposition.  

There are internal restraints in how they consume. Shiva’s mother Kamala (Manasi Sudhir) tells him off every time he goes hunting. It is not out of fear of government retribution but because animals are sacred and must not be indiscriminately killed. Most certainly not for sport of to prove some ability. They are to be consumed only on occasion. Also, the forest god Panjurli is a boar god and hence one must not ill-treat his likeness. In fact, there is a rather significant moment when Shiva himself acknowledges how his people are satisfied with a frugal meal and do not give into excess.

Greed is a running theme within the film which ties with the ideas of land ownership that settled communities, that claim rights of being civilised by mere virtue of land possession, believe in. The lack of consideration for forest communities is shown playing out on one hand by feudal forces and on the other by government systems. One is not claiming that the communities that have lived by the land are repositories of complete knowledge but that their expertise is not even considered, is problematic.

The story is rather simple but the simplicity of the story is layered with much symbolism about identity and space. The characters in the beginning seem like stock representations of certain ideas but it curves making the characters more rounded figures capable of growth and learning. This is not just for Shiva and Murali but others as well. For instance, Leela (Sapthami Gowda) is the female love interest and does fulfil certain traditional romantic frameworks but she doesn’t just retire into the scenery but holds her own in how she expresses her autonomy in everything including desire.

The film is aware of the changing socio-political and ecological climate and anticipates it in how it seeks to communicate its resolution. It also uses supernatural horror to drive the action of the story, making the viewers fall deeper into a mystical experience.