The Quarantine Stream: 'Tokyo Godfathers' is Capra-Esque Christmas Movie About Found Family
(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: Tokyo Godfathers
Where You Can Stream It: Crackle
The Pitch: Three homeless people discover an abandoned baby in a garbage dump on Christmas Eve, and decide to do anything in their power to find it a home.
Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: I’m an avowed fan of Satoshi Kon, whose name I believe should be celebrated in equal standing as the globally acclaimed Hayao Miyazaki. His often brutal meditations on identity and memory are some of the most astounding animated films — nay, films — that I’ve ever seen. Tokyo Godfathers, released in 2003 to near-universal acclaim, is his kindest film, even if on the surface it is his ugliest, animation-wise. It’s intentionally ugly though: exploring the seedy underworld of Tokyo’s homeless on Christmas Eve, in a Frank Capra-esque dramedy that is equal turns heartwarming and harrowing — and oddly sentimental for its director — that is all about the miracle of Christmas.
The holiday legitimacy of Kon’s 2003 film may be up for debate, but the dramedy is full of so much warmth and empathy that it is easily a Christmas movie in my book. Loosely based on Peter B. Kyne’s novel Three Godfathers, Tokyo Godfathers follows three homeless people — a depressed alcoholic named Gin, a transgender woman named Hana, and a runaway teen named Miyuki — who discover an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve. The trio decide to find the baby’s parents, exploring the seedy underbelly of Tokyo and its homeless community.
Hijinks naturally ensue — taking the trio through an abandoned house, an alley full of homeless people trying to keep warm on Christmas Eve, a drugstore — but like many of Kon’s films, Tokyo Godfathers is a film that takes its stories and its characters seriously. The locations are all more than a little depressing, lent a grim realism by Kon’s simple, muted animation style — one in which only the characters pop out amid Tokyo’s stark, dirty streets and lesser-seen locales. But there’s an unexpected warmth that can be found even in the most forlorn locations, which Kon charts skillfully in a story that mixes melodrama, comedy, and a surprising amount of nail-biting action.
I’ve spent a lot of time on this site trying to convince others that anime is worth their time, but I won’t repeat that spiel with Tokyo Godfathers, as I think it’s a film that doesn’t have to justify its existence. It’s a film co-written and directed by a renowned anime director (gone before his time) and discussed as a film that’s surprisingly good “for an anime film,” but its medium shouldn’t make its tragicomic story of found family any lesser.
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