One Christmas Eve, three homeless people, grizzled patriarch Gin (Tôru Emori), gay former drag queen Hana (Yoshiaki Umegaki) and teenage runaway Miyuki (Aya Okamoto), discover an abandoned baby while rooting through a pile of trash. They decide to find her parents.
When someone says that Japanese animation is just big robots, dangerously proportioned women, and tentacles, show them Tokyo Godfathers. By turns hilarious, touching, upsetting and even moving, it has more human heart and drama than many live-action movies can muster. The plot allows itself to be a little ludicrous, gleefully throwing absurd coincidences at us, including an attempted assassination and an ambulance crash. But it is always rooted in the human drama that engulfs the lives of the characters.
The three main characters are protagonists so rarely giving top billing in cinema and are a joy to spend time with and get to know. The detailed animation style imbues them with such character and life that they pop off the screen. We get to see how this unlikely trio of friends ended up on the streets and the hardship of living a life as a marginalised citizen.
Director Satoshi Kon, here co-directing with Studio Ghibli animator Shôgo Furuya, is an animation director mostly only known to the cult cinema crowd. His psychological horror Perfect Blue is a horror classic, perhaps even the best horror animation ever made, while his dream thriller Paprika is an obvious influence of Inception, to the point where some people claim Inception is a rip-off. He sadly died in his fifties, and we were robbed of more brilliant work he was sure to make. He proved himself over a very short body of work to be a director of great skill and talent. Tokyo Godfathers stands up as some of his best work, showing his mastery of not only animation but of human drama.
This Blu-ray release contains three featurettes, one behind the scenes, a making-of and an anime festival featurette, as well as an interview with the musical director and US and UK trailers. It’s a little slim and the film is crying out for an extensive special edition release.
With peerless animation, plenty of laughs and just as much heart, Tokyo Godfathers is an absolute joy. It should appear high on your list of alternative Christmas movies.
TOKYO GODFATHERS (2003) / CERT: 12 / DIRECTORS: SATOSHI KON, SHÔGO FURUYA / SCREENPLAY: SATOSHI KON, KEIKO NOBUMOTO / STARRING: TÔRU EMORI, AYA OKAMOTO, YOSHIAKI UMEGAKI, SHÔZÔ ÎZUKA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW