Starring: Tôru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki, Aya Okamoto
Director: Satoshi Kon
Running Time: 92 mins
Tokyo Godfathers is a Japanese film about four homeless people who find an abandoned baby in the trash on Christmas Eve, and so set about finding the child’s parents in the intense metropolis of Tokyo.
In a genre that’s full of cheesy clichés, it’s brilliant to see a film like Tokyo Godfathers take on Christmas in such a unique way. Directed by the man who brought you the likes of Perfect Blue and Paprika, it’s quite a dark and often intense watch, but it actually manages to feel like a Christmas film, featuring some incredibly touching moments about family and community spirit, whilst also impressing with its beautiful animation throughout.
The main reason that I found this film so engrossing and memorable was because of its impressive emotional power. The dark and often ruthless atmosphere that surrounds these three clearly kind-hearted homeless people struggling their way through the city is pretty heavy-going, but what that does is give you an incredibly strong connection to them as more than just the film’s protagonists.
Satoshi Kon does a brilliant job at subverting expectations throughout the film, turning people who you wouldn’t expect into being truly wonderful, and that makes for some wonderfully touching moments. The film’s heavy and gritty vibe mean they’re not exceptionally heartwarming, but the breaks for a tender and emotional look at the ideas of family and community spirit are really beautiful, and do a far better job than most Christmas movies at making you care for the fate of the main characters.
Beyond the emotions, however, the plot here is also fantastic. Seemingly simple at first, the various obstacles that the leading trio have to overcome in order to achieve their goal are wide-ranging and always unpredictable. The portrayal of Tokyo city as quite a harsh and unforgiving metropolis is fascinating to watch, and reinforces the struggle of the lead characters in both their lives and their current mission, all building well throughout the film, something that makes for an extra powerful, and even shocking, finale.
Let’s talk about Satoshi Kon’s directing for a moment. His most renowned films are known for being mind-bending, intense and incredibly complex. With non-linear narratives that often blur the line between reality and dreams, some of his films are almost inaccessible.
However, that’s not the case with Tokyo Godfathers. Whilst it is without a doubt an intelligent and often heavy-going film, its numerous moments of hope, coupled with the fact that it follows a very linear structure that still manages to surprise you, means that it’s a lot easier and more enjoyable to watch than a lot of his other movies. It may not be as innovative, but it does a brilliant job of taking the Christmas genre to somewhere we haven’t seen before, yet retaining a strong festive feel.
Overall, I have to say that I really loved Tokyo Godfathers. Often gritty and intense, it’s an incredibly moving and touching film that’s a real treat to watch. It’s darker than your average Christmas movie, but it’s not one that will beat the festive spirit out of you, and its comparably more accessible direction means that it can be a real joy for both anime die-hards and casual Christmas moviegoers alike, which is why I’m giving it an 8.0.