“There’s not much light in a cardboard box.”
The Scoop: 2003 PG-13, directed by Satoshi Kon and starring Toru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki, and Aya Okamoto
Tagline: Meet the ultimate dysfunctional family.
Summary Capsule: Three homeless people track down the parents to an abandoned baby on Christmas and wacky Japanese adventures ensue.
Eunice’s rating: My second favorite Satoshi Kon movie.
Eunice’s review: Our story takes place during Christmas in Tokyo, and our main characters are three homeless people that have banned together to form a quirky sort of family. Miyuki the teen runaway who makes a point of being prickly and contrary, Gin the gruff drunk old guy, and Hana the former drag queen now drag pauper. While picking through garbage they hear a baby’s cries, and after some digging find an abandoned baby. Hana wants to keep the baby seeing it as a miracle from God, Gin wants to drop her off with the cops, and Miyuki is just kinda “meh” about it. Hana eventually relents that they can’t keep the baby (now named Kiyoko), after all a cardboard shanty town is no place for her and formula costs money, but on one condition: They hunt down the parents and ask why they left the baby. If it’s a good answer and they have remorse Hana will give Kiyoko back, if not then they’ll take her to the nearest police station. So off they go following a key left in the baby blanket to a storage locker with more clues that’ll take them all over Tokyo.
Tokyo Godfathers is unapologetically about miracles. Hana sees everything about Kiyoko as miraculous and has a sense of flamboyant wonder and a belief that things will turn out in the end. While Gin and Miyuki think that if the baby was a miracle sent to them from God, she wouldn’t have ended up in the trash in the first place. As they travel putting the pieces together, their minds are in straightforward quest mode, but they keep seemingly getting distracted, but events are working towards helping to rescue the rescuers. Nobody even notices the first time they’re saved when, right after the credits, Hana just misses getting hit by a skidding car (Look in the background or you’ll miss it).
But with that hope, it’s also a dark movie. They’re homeless, and while they are aware of this, when it’s just them there’s a kind of naturalness to it, they’ve adapted. It isn’t until they’re in scenes with “normal” people that the level of outcast, the sadness of their situation sinks in. In fact, the outcast types, the homeless, the gangsters, the drag queens, all understand compassion, while the “normal” people are mostly shown as disrespectful, violent, or intentionally blind. It never gets preachy, but it’s there. And the hardships of being homeless -cold, hunger, sickness- are there as well.
Then mixed with the hope and the dark is this strangely funny, occasionally irreverent, humor. There’s a good chance you’ll find something to be offended by, (which I would list but I don’t want to get into them out of context) but it’s done in such a non-malicious way it’s hard to hold it against the movie. So I’ll just say that it is funny in a very Japanese way and it made me laugh quite a few times and that the humor is necessary to keep the movie from getting too sappy or depressing.
Along with being about miracles, Tokyo Godfathers is about acceptance and confronting the things you’ve run away from. Even though they live with each other, all three of them for about six months when Miyuki ran from home we’re never told how long Hana and Gin have been together, they don’t know the stories of how the other two ended up on the street. So as they go on their quest events are worked out that they have to face the things they were running from when they became disenfranchised. It’s scary and painful (and funny) and the end result is satisfying.
The animation and sound and acting is top notch as to be expected from a Satoshi Kon movie. Unlike the realism in movement and character of Millennium Actress, or the bright colors of Paprika, Tokyo Godfathers is slightly more exaggerated with the body lines and facial expressions of the characters giving them a lot of energy to balance out the dullness of their clothes and surroundings. And there is some really creative story telling technique.
If you’re looking for a different sort of Christmas movie that isn’t too saccharine, I really recommend Tokyo Godfathers.
- Peter B. Kyne’s novel The Three Godfathers was first published in 1913, and was about three bank robbers. The first movie adaptation was in 1916’s The Three Godfathers, then 1929’s Hell’s Heroes, 1936’s Three Godfathers, and the 1948 3 Godfathers was a John Wayne vehicle.
- The film is full of “12-25” references, including: The number on the key; the cab fare; the address in the newspaper ad; the cab license plate.
- Right after the opening credits, where Hana just misses getting hit by the skidding car, you can see posters for Satoshi Kon’s other movies Perfect Blue, and Millennium Actress.
- While the subtitles, at least on my version, are available in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese it’s Japanese audio only, so subtitles warning.
Hana: Better give me a little extra. I’m eating for two.
Miyuki: Eat ****, you old fart.
Hana: “****” I’ll take, but “fart” I won’t!
Gin: You peep pretty loud for a chick that can”t even find its own worms.
Hana: What are you doing to Dostoyevski?!
Bum #2: Get out of here, will you?
Bum #1: We don’t want Gin after us.
Miyuki: Why not?
Bum #1: You’re the light of his life, that’s why not!
Miyuki: There’s not much light in a cardboard box.
Hana: Don’t be silly! I like my men to be more manly. The kind of man I like is slender, middle-aged, tanned, with a divine square-back haircut and a lower-town accent who says, “Ah, what the hell,” when I don’t quite have the cab fare. *smiles at Cabbie*
Cabbie: …. *sigh*
Hana: That man of mine!
Miyuki: Kiyoko wants to see her mom and dad!
“Kiyoko”: I want to go home.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Millennium Actress
- 3 Godfathers
- Kiki’s Delivery Service
- Life Stinks