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.

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