Tokyo Godfathers: The Best Christmas Movie To Come Out of the East (Day #19)

Title: Tokyo Godfathers

Release: August 30th, 2003

Director: Satoshi Kon

Writer(s): Keiko Nobumoto, Satoshi Kon

Starring: Toru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki, Aya Okamoto

*Warning, this review may contain spoilers.

Finally, the main entrant that I fought for, as this is a movie that everyone needs to see. For those that have followed from our early MiR days, I created the website to express my love for movies and anime. While my passion has not faltered, I have yet to properly review any series or films in the last two years. I need to change that immediately and might be a significant goal for 2020. Anyway enough beating around the bush and let me lead you onto the dark streets of Tokyo in my personal favorite Eastern Christmas story Tokyo Godfathers. 

A Chance Alley Meeting

If I could say any Christmas film feels like pure magic, it is this one. It only took 19 days to get here. Tokyo Godfathers tells the eccentric tale of three transients: middle-aged alcoholic Gin, runaway girl Miyuki, and ex-drag queen Hana. While living on the streets of Tokyo, how unlikely heroes happen to end up in the same area on Christmas Eve and stumble across something important…an abandoned baby. Despite not being friendly and even downright hostile to each other, the three support each other as they try to find the baby’s parents. Throughout the night and the days that follow, we dive deep into the lives of Gin, Miyuki, and Hana and learn an often untold lesson about Christmas.

We have found you, pure child.

Taking a single look at the premise, we could almost all agree that it feels tried and generic…we’ve heard this story before Kon. However, the execution of the story is key and our main cast couldn’t have been designed any better to fit into our mold. Through the eyes of perhaps one of the most cynical groups of people on Earth, we learn more about ourselves and an ideal life than we could when following a child’s adventure. In Christmas stories, it is much easier to resonate with a child whose naivety and innocence leads them to believe in the impossible. But in Tokyo Godfathers, our heroes are all running from their past lives, tired and have come to terms with the life they have chosen. This child symbolizes a life full of redemption, safety, and another chance to add back into society. Hell, the child’s name is Kiyoko, which often translated means “pure child.”

Don’t Worry, Laugh!

Sure, I may have scared you off with the extremely heavy themes right off the bat. I’m not sorry. Even though these heavy ideas and dramatic moments are prevalent throughout the film, Tokyo Godfathers is first and foremost a comedy. While the dramatic scenes may be grim and serious, there are plenty of hilarious moments to break the tension. For example, early on in the film our trio finds a high-ranking member of the Yakuza stuck under a car that accidentally rolled on top of him. As it turns out, he co-owns a nearby club with their first lead. Once they reach the club and investigate, a beautiful wedding turns sour as a South American cross-dressing hitman performs a hit on another Yakuza member. Absurd, am I right?

If there is any core storytelling element that Tokyo Godfathers relies on is the concept of miracles. It is a Christmas movie after all. First off, the first miracle occurs to even start off the events of the film! With how large of a city Tokyo is, what are the odds that each of our main characters would exist in the same square on the same night? Not to mention having a baby abandoned on that same very evening. Tokyo Godfathers tells its entire story in a series of miracles and coincidences yet we aren’t jumping at the chance to tear it apart. Kon weaves these outstanding circumstances moments consistently, yet it compels us to root and cheer for our heroes to complete their journey.

The Satoshi Kon Touch

Now I have mentioned the director, Satoshi Kon, many times throughout this piece already. However, with his body of work, he deserves articles upon articles about himself alone. Tokyo Godfathers is one of five films from the late Satoshi Kon, standing out as a sharp right turn in the Kon repertoire. Kon, mainly known for genre-bending epic thrillers like Perfect Blue, Paranoia Agentand Millenium Actress, wanted to branch out and add his talents to the Christmas holiday. While many doubted that there was any hope for Tokyo Godfathers to achieve any success, Kon believed in his work as well the public. Even ignoring Tokyo Godfathers as a Christmas movie, this is the first Kon movie you should see if you are interested in his work. His unique style thrives in the roots of Tokyo Godfathers, so it appears like the least Satoshi Kon Satoshi Kon film. For a different perspective, give Paprika a try. Fun fact, the film actually served as a major influence for Christopher Nolan’s Inception. 

Where is My Chosen Family?

Something I noticed upon this year’s viewing is actually a more important message than what I would normally take from a Christmas movie. Tokyo Godfathers is all about your chosen family, something that I am personally struggling with right now. Throughout the film, we actually have a chance to see member’s of both Gin and Miyuki’s traditional family and just how far their relationships have devolved. Gin’s alcohol addiction destroyed his family with his sister, while Miyuki’s choice to run away from her father left her nowhere to go. Yet through our trio’s adventure, the grow closer and even consider themselves as their “chosen family”. Once Kiyoko finally rejoins her parents, the parents do something completely out of the ordinary. These three transients, who you would never think to take this journey in the first place,  are offered godparent titles for Kiyoko. This new family is born from the ashes and I can’t help to weep every time. I’ll find my chosen family someday.

This is one hell of a family.

Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers is another one in the pipeline. By far in my top 2 Christmas films of all time, I hope you give Tokyo Godfathers the honest try that it deserves. If you enjoy it, check out the rest of Satoshi Kon’s catalog as well! You won’t be the same.

Thanks for reaching the end of the article! This piece is apart of our Modern Neon Christmas Bonanza, where we are looking at 25 of our favorite or well-known Christmas movies.  So click through to see the previous and next movie, or go back to the home page to find your favorite movie!

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