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Tokyo Godfathers

Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

December. 29,2003
| Animation Drama

During a Christmas Eve in Tokyo, three homeless people, middle-aged alcoholic Gin, former drag queen Hana, and dependent runaway girl Miyuki, discover an abandoned newborn while looking through the garbage. With only a handful of clues to the baby's identity, the three misfits search the city to find its parents.


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Instead, you get a movie that's enjoyable enough, but leaves you feeling like it could have been much, much more.

Robert Joyner

The plot isn't so bad, but the pace of storytelling is too slow which makes people bored. Certain moments are so obvious and unnecessary for the main plot. I would've fast-forwarded those moments if it was an online streaming. The ending looks like implying a sequel, not sure if this movie will get one

Adeel Hail

Unshakable, witty and deeply felt, the film will be paying emotional dividends for a long, long time.


One of the worst ways to make a cult movie is to set out to make a cult movie.


In continuing my trip into the late Satoshi Kon's all-too-small body of work (four feature films as director and one television series that is MUCH too hard to track down), I now come across this film, 2003's Tokyo Godfathers, which I unfortunately missed when it was first released and was actually the first time I had heard of the director.I was happy to finally come across a copy and pop it in... only to find that it was not at all what I was expecting from the director of such mind-benders as Perfect Blue and Paprika. This is both good and not-so-good. It's certainly not a bad film, nor one that is distasteful. It's a sentimental piece of pap that has the ambition to the Japanese anime answer to It's a Wonderful Life: a Christmas story that is not necessarily all about Christmas that has supernatural (or "miracle") overtones, and goes sometimes into dark places.The short of it: three homeless people, one a bearded guy with a family that he left behind, a transvestite who insists on being called a woman's name and is so flamboyant as to make Harvey Fierstein jealous, and a young runaway girl whose father is a cop. They come across a baby abandoned in a dump where they dwell at night, and decide to take it to the police... well, not unanimously anyway, the transvestite wants to hold on to it and mother it. But they come across some hijinks and problems along the way, including the woman who comes back to find the baby again.I could go on about the plot, but it should only be the short of it not so that I'll reveal anything so surprising, but there is TOO much to try and reveal in a plot synopsis. Like many anime films and series I can think of (on the action-side Dragonball Z and on the more adult side Princess Mononoke), the story can get complicated, if not impossible to follow. In this case though it's a holiday family film (yes, family film, despite its dark corridors its meant for ma and pa and the kids sitting around the fire), and in the last fifteen minutes or so complications, coincidences and/or contrivances get piled on, leading up to a big chase scene up a building.This would all be fine if the film itself didn't become so sentimental. It's hard to take that in Hollywood movies, but with Kon, and he has the best intentions believe me, it becomes a tale so squishy that you can feel it slipping from your fingers. It is pap, but not the kind of enjoyable pap that the original John Ford entertainer 3 Godfathers was back in 1948 (same premise, three men and a baby, but with the Duke in one of his best performances, but I digress it's good). Here the characters end up being more of service to Kon's 'Wonderful Life' tale, yet this does come after some time developing them. We get back-story, and later some contradiction to the back-story, and some visual aids such as a flashback to the transvestite's story as a singer who got in to a big fight with a heckler.Sure, the film has beautiful animation. Kon is one of the forerunners of Miyazaki as one of the greats in his time of modern anime in Japan, changing the game and surprising at many turns. At the least Tokyo Godfathers is pretty to look at, a kind of urban fairy tale with lots of snow and harder-edged buildings and grit, with some blasts of big humor and some deserved heart. If only the story didn't sink into its sappy moments so much - though for some this will be just the thing that will take them in, and I can't blame them. Perhaps it's the Grinch in me.

Sean Lamberger

The most accessible film of director Satoshi Kon's all-too-brief anime career. Where Perfect Blue and Paprika are more adventurous and challenging, they're also difficult to sit back and enjoy in a traditional sense without falling into a deep state of analysis. This one, of three bickering homeless chums who find an infant girl in the garbage, retains the quirks, charms and emotional punch of Kon's other works without challenging quite so many conventions. Sweet, funny and grounded, it's constantly flashing a dry wit and, although it often tugs at the heart strings, things never get overly soft or weepy. The trio of leads are diverse and interesting, each with an onion skin of personal history to explore, and their hunt for the child's parents amidst the overpopulation of a major world metropolis constantly jolts out in surprising new directions. Beautifully written, drawn and animated, it can also be a bit static and randomly fortuitous.


Director Satoshi Kon took his inspiration, and part of his title, from Jon Ford's western 3 Godfathers (1948), in which three rough and ready outlaws find themselves caring for a baby. At heart it's a Christmas card to Tokyo, and expression of good will and a reminder to spread a little kindness in a world that is increasingly cold and intolerant. The film mixes comedy, drama, pathos and action. There are, of course, Christmas references galore. There are also references to a Tokyo many anime fans may find as incredible as Santa Claus. Kon reminds us this is no fairyland, but a real, living city with 21st century problems that no robot army can solve - shanty towns, tramps scavenging in graveyards, predatory teenagers beating up old men, and illegal immigrants scraping a living in the black economy. Above all else, though, there's a happy ending, without which no Christmas film could possibly be a Christmas film. It comes, not from any flashy bit of magic, but from the everyday miracles in the hearts of ordinary people whose humanity redeems their failings. Kon captures the beguiling neon glow of Tokyo in the film's many night scenes, turning the city into a magical setting for a tale of Christmas miracles.


This film is unlike the late Satoshi Kon's other films in that the viewer doesn't wonder if what they are watching is meant to be taken as real or if it is a dream, fantasy or delusion; here it is all real. The fact that it has a traditional narrative doesn't mean it is any less engrossing than his other films though. Set in winter in Tokyo this film follows the lives of three homeless people, one an alcoholic gambler, one a transvestite and one a runaway teenaged girl. On Christmas Eve they find a baby, which they call Kiyoko, abandoned amongst the rubbish and decide that they must return her to her parents. Their self-given mission will lead them to confront they own pasts and the reasons they are homeless and find redemption with those they have wronged. They may be on the bottom rung of the social ladder but for this one week they seemed to be blessed with amazing luck; a man they help just happens to be the future father in-law of the former employee of Kiyoko's mother, a nurse they meet in hospital in the daughter of one of the men and the teenager's father is the policeman who brings Kiyoko's parents to the homeless trio when they want to thank them.This was another brilliant film from Satoshi Kon; it is a tragedy that this brilliant director died so young. It is impossible to imagine what he would have gone onto achieve. The story, which he wrote as well as directed, is genuinely moving without ever being overly sentimental. The characters are well designed and the animation was first class throughout. While this isn't a comic film there are plenty of moments that made me laugh as well as one or two that almost made me cry. Even if you aren't usually a fan of animated films I'd recommend this.These comments are based on watching the film in Japanese with English subtitles.