Satoshi Kon’s firm grasp of tragicomedy is evident in this expertly-constructed tale of three homeless persons who find a newborn baby in the trash on Christmas Eve.
Dir. Satoshi Kon
2003 | Japan | Animation / Adventure / Comedy | 92 mins | 1.85:1 | Japanese, Spanish & English
PG (passed clean) for thematic elements, violent images, language and some sexual material
Cast: Toru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki, Aya Okamoto
Plot: On Christmas Eve, three homeless people living on the streets of Tokyo discover a newborn baby among the trash and set out to find its parents.
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: The Projector
Some critics have considered Tokyo Godfathers a lesser work from Satoshi Kon, but such is Kon’s unique artistry as an anime director that he had never made a film not worth seeing. Despite living a short life, he left behind four superb features—Perfect Blue (1997), Millennium Actress (2001), Paprika (2006), and of course, this one.
Set on Christmas Eve, Tokyo Godfathers acquaints us with three homeless persons who inexplicably find a newborn baby in the trash. Not knowing who the parents are, the trio set out to find them, charting their city adventure that comes with numerous surprises along the way.
Kon’s work is sometimes bizarre, but his firm grasp of the tragicomic aspects of each character’s lived existence propels the narrative seamlessly between physical reality and some outlandish moments of anime-exaggerated reality.
“God must be busy at this time of year.”
“Better once a year than never.”
The most interesting parts of Tokyo Godfathers come from the love-hate banter amongst the three characters as they reluctantly share their compelling backstories.
Themes of regret, guilt and the desire for redemption are central to how Kon fleshes out his characters. In the process, Kon humanises them and they, in turn, earn our empathy. Nary a dull moment, the film is incredibly well-paced and builds up to a suspenseful if morbidly hilarious climax.
Some might find the movie to be too conveniently plotted, but the storytelling efficiency works for me—that way, we can enjoy how the different narrative blocks come together seamlessly, creating a sum that is greater than its parts.