JENICA GARCIA ROSE WRITES– Everyone has a favorite animated movie. This past holiday season, in addition to the usual Western animated classics, such as Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer (1964), A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), The Polar Express (2004), and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), I had the chance to watch a film that trumps them all: Tokyo Godfathers (2003), a Japanese anime directed by the late Satoshi Kon.
Unlike other animated films, this one answers important questions such as: “What does family mean?” and “what is it to love?” This separates Tokyo Godfathers from the usual animated filmfare about love and togetherness.
Loosely based on Peter B. Kyne’s novel Three Godfathers, the film follows three homeless people on Christmas Eve as they search for the mother of an abandoned baby. They travel a long distance, survive difficult situations, and experience intense, heartfelt emotions. What’s more, the gorgeous background designs, fluid animation, and distinctive character designs come together to create a unique visual style unexplored by the West. So it is both beautiful in presentation and momentous in its theme.
A large part of the story’s richness lies in the directing and screenplay written by Kon, a renowned director, animator, screenwriter and artist known for surrealist films Perfect Blue (1997) and Paprika (2006),. Kon’s editing style of fast- paced cuts enhances a sense of adventure. His “Tokyo” co-writer, Keiko Nobumoto, writes for other popular anime series, including Cowboy Bebop (1998), Samurai Champloo (2004-2005), and Space Dandy (2014). Small wonder that Tokyo Godfathers went on to receive an Excellence Prize at the 2003 Japan Media Arts Festival and Best Animation Film at the 58th Mainichi Film Awards.
The most powerful element of Tokyo Godfathers, is its diverse set of characters. The film’s “three wise men” consists of an alcoholic named Gin, a trans woman named Hana (unfortunately, however, they call her “homo” in this 16-year-old film), and a stubborn runaway girl named Miyuki. Each character is trying to escape something in his or her past. But after discovering an abandoned baby, they learn more about themselves and see something they didn’t think was possible: hope. There are some funny, scenes, too: Long lost relatives are found by chance, the three protagonists stumble on baby supplies by luck, and, despite being separated multiple times during the course of the movie, they always find each other again. Together, these outcasts of society form a family—which may be the movie’s ultimate message: Flawed people are family—maybe more so, at times, than our traditional families.
When you need a spiritual boost, give Tokyo Godfathers a try. It explores the complexity of standard societal relationships and the coincidences in life that bring people close.