The setting of Christmas has often played a crucial role in films, such as with Miracle on 34th Street and It's a Wonderful Life. First released in 2003, Tokyo Godfathers also centers around Christmas. But it is anything but your typical feel-good holiday movie. Instead, director and writer Satoshi Kon delivers an animated story that involves many real world problems and dire conditions. Yet, it is also a story of hope, humor, and the little miracles that can happen during the Christmas season.
The story starts by introducing us to the three main characters of Gin, Hana, and Miyuki. Although all three are homeless, they are from drastically different backgrounds. Gin, played by Toru Emori, is a middle aged man who lost everything, including his family, to his gambling habit. Hana, played by Yoshiaki Umegaki, is a drag queen with a terminal illness. And Miyuki, played by Aya Okomoto, is a runaway teenager. Despite their differences, they have formed a surrogate family of sorts, living together in a cardboard shack on the streets of Tokyo.
On Christmas Eve, this unlikely trio stumbles upon a crying baby in the trash. They knew they were in no position to take care of the child, but Hana's "motherly instincts" kick in and convince the other two to go on a mission to rejoin this baby with her parents. Their only clue is a locker key that they found with the baby, but this one clue leads them on a wild adventure all over Tokyo filled with both fortunate and unfortunate mishaps.
As the movie progresses, the background story behind each of the main characters is told. This was very cleverly done by tying elements from their past into the main plot of finding the baby's parents. From these background stories, we learn about the bad decisions that led each character to this point in his/her life. In many ways, Tokyo Godfathers is more so about Gin, Hana, and Miyuki rather than about the baby and the quest to find her parents.
Near the end of the film, the audience is presented with an interesting surprise twist in the story line. From there, both the main plot as well as the individual characters' stories are wrapped up nicely without being too obvious. It is definitely not your typical happy ending. But suffice it to say, everyone gets the opportunity to make things better, if not for themselves, then for others.
Tokyo Godfathers is loosely based on John Ford's Three Godfathers with John Wayne, about three outlaws who rescue a baby from his dying mother on Christmas Eve. But where Three Godfathers is set in the old West, Tokyo Godfathers is set in contemporary times. So the issues addressed are much more pertinent to today's society.
Besides Tokyo Godfathers, Satoshi Kon is probably best known for directing Perfect Blue, the psychological thriller from 1998. Although both films are animes, they are dramatically different in terms of theme, genre, and characters. However, Kon did an outstanding job with both, showing us his diverse range of talents.
Unlike other holiday films, Tokyo Godfathers is not for the whole family. It incorporates many of society's problems, such as homelessness, random violence, and death. However, despite such grim topics, director Satoshi Kon is still able to tell a touching, funny, and hopeful story. In fact, telling the story amidst such bleak issues makes the film that much more impactful. Tokyo Godfathers is a movie I would strongly recommend, and it is a nice alternative to the predictable, textbook holiday film.