Tokyo Godfathers (2003) / Adventure-Animation
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, language, nudity, and some sexuality
Running Time: 92 min.
Cast (voices): Toru Emori, Aya Okamoto, Yoshiaki Umegaki, Shozo Izuka
Director: Satoshi Kon, Shogo Furuya
Screenplay: Satoshi Kon, Keiko Nobumoto
Tokyo Godfathers isn't your typical anime flick, as its creator, Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress), has a reputation for character driven pieces, and not the stylish action or science fiction plotting of so many of his contemporaries. In some respects, it has a story similar to the oft-filmed western, Three Godfathers (the 1948 John Ford/John Wayne version being the most popular), or really, the story of the three Magi, all of which feature the story of a young child who changed the lives of three drifters forever during the Christmas season.
Kon's film takes place in late December in Tokyo (of course), where three homeless people have befriended one another. The three make an unlikely union, as one is a middle-aged alcoholic, another is a young runaway, and the third is a transvestite. They don't generally get along, but they are thrust together when they find a newborn baby amid the trash heaps, apparently abandoned by its parents. They decide to keep the baby themselves and find the mother, rather than go straight to the police, and using a locker key they find with the child, they set about following the clues that will eventually lead to the reunification of baby and mother. Throughout their adventures, they also find themselves resolving some family issues of their own.
Other than the fact that it's a Japanese animated feature, there isn't a great deal that is original about this oft-told tale, but the film still works on a fundamental level thanks to Kon's rich characterizations, as well as the quality of the animation. As represented here, Tokyo is a sprawling and uncaring place for the homeless, and there is great sadness in the lives of almost everyone they meet, but through it all, there is always the element of hope.
Tokyo Godfathers is a quality release from one of the most interesting and diverse talents in anime, but alas, the main plot is also a shade on the boring side, probably because it seems over-familiar. In addition, there are some nonsensical elements that come into play that make things a bit hard to swallow, and the contrived coincidences to eventually make it all seem a bit hard to take seriously. Still, it is such a rich and thought-provoking experience in many other ways, that it more than earns a recommendation for those interested in anime of a different sort. No exploding robots or young girls with massive mammories -- just a morality tale of people coming to terms with their rightful place in the world, done with heart and great respect.
©2005 Vince Leo