Tokyo Godfathers is a film directed by Kon Satoshi, who also directed the superb Perfect Blue, and co-written by Wolf’s Rain creator, Nobumoto Keiko. With animation and production from Madhouse, whether it’s the branch of Madhouse that ruins action scenes with random T & A shots or the branch that does stellar work remains to be seen. Yes, I have become convinced that Madhouse has one division to do animation for quality projects like Rainbow, Monster and the aforementioned Perfect Blue and another for their drek projects like Highschool of the Dead or Devil Hunter Yohko. Although in reality they probably have a lot more divisions than that. I am cautiously optimistic about this one since the director and co-writer have both done some spectacular work, but keep in mind that the last time I expressed optimism going into a series was Penguindrum. Let’s hope this one goes better.
The narrative follows three homeless individuals, Gin, Hana and Miyuki. It’s Christmas time and the three of them head to a garbage storage area because Hana found some thrown away books for Miyuki’s present. While wading through the various bags they hear a crying sound and discover that someone threw away a perfectly good baby. Hana is ecstatic since she always wanted to be a mother but hasn’t been able to become one on account of being a trans-woman and lacking the resources for adoption. So, she names the baby Kiyoko but they naturally can’t keep her what with the homelessness and lack of resources that go with that situation. As such, they follow their only other clue, a key with a number written on it, and go on a search to find the baby’s mother.
There’s only one story issue with Tokyo Godfathers. The narrative frequently relies on major coincidences to work. We’re talking coincidence on the level of Steerforth showing up at random all the time. Except it’s not so bad in this since there’s a major underlying theme of people who are down-trodden getting lucky breaks for once which the beneficial coincidences does play into. As opposed to David Copperfield where Steerforth just showed up at random because Dickens needed or wanted his character around and not for the sake of any thematic content. Still, the coincidences they encounter do stretch believability and it is a tad distracting.
Overall, the story is really solid. The film does a great job of keeping tension. The pacing is excellent. The scenarios the characters find themselves in while looking for the mother are all plot relevant. Various story points get brought up and resolved very well. The comic moments are kind of down-played and subdued, which works excellently for a film that blends comedy and drama. There are a lot of really good emotional scenes funny, sad and happy and the ending is perfect.
The characters are all really interesting. You learn the circumstances that led each one to live on the streets and each one gets their own story arc within the film. All of which is accomplished very skillfully. None of it is superfluous either, it all evolves very naturally from the story. The film does a perfect job of crafting characters who have faults but come across as genuinely good people. Even the film’s “antagonist” has motivations that you can understand and sympathise with. The character interactions are also very well done. They all feel very real. Sometimes they argue or fight but you do get the sense that they really care about one another. Even the other characters not respecting Hana’s gender identity and the way she copes with it have verisimilitude.
The art is excellent in this. The backgrounds are lively and very detailed. The character designs are a bit reminiscent of Perfect Blue. They’re nicely detailed and focus on realism. The faces are very expressive. The film just looks really fantastic.
The voice acting is really well done. The major characters are voiced by Okamoto Aya, Umegaki Yoshiaki and Emori Toru. All of whom are primarily live action actors with very little, or nothing in terms of voice work besides this. In spite of that, the three of them do give very strong performances. The side characters are all well acted as well. The music is really nicely done.
There really isn’t any. Primarily because it’s not homo-erotic when a trans-woman likes men.
Tokyo Godfathers is a really good film. It does just about everything right with a spectacular story, great characters, amazing art and good acting. It has very little in terms of issues and is definitely worth checking out. If you have ninety minutes this holiday season, give it a watch. My rating is a solid 9/10. Next week, I’ll take a look at Heroman. And I’ll end this review by saying happy holidays to all of you and to all a good day.