As a former film student, I have a great respect for Japanese anime. But I've never particularly enjoyed it. I've seen Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Grave of the Fireflies, Area 88, and some others and I just couldn't get into them. The same goes for Japanese video games. Perhaps it's the ambiguously feminine looking male heroes or the young school girl who's skirt is just a little too short and sexy for her age. Perhaps it's the surreal science fiction plots. Whatever the reason, I've never been able to connect and am often a little creeped out.
That is, until I saw Tokyo Godfathers.
The story takes place in modern-day Tokyo during the Christmas season. Our anti-heroes are 3 homeless people who live together and have formed a makeshift family of sorts, warts and all. Gin is a middle-aged alcoholic with an angry past. Hana is a cross-dressing man who takes on the female role of the group. Miyuki is a troubled teen with a dark past. She is spunky, mouthy and really angry with the world. The three of them form a a sort of odd triplet who are constantly at each others' throats, but not because they dislike each other, but because they have no one else to take out the frustrations of their past and current situations on. As we learn later, they are filled with love for each other and will go to great lengths to help and support one another.
When a baby is abandoned and found by the motley crew, they take in the child and hilarity and heartbreak ensues. As they try to find the owners of the child, they run across all kinds of strange and interesting characters. They meet with people who want to hurt them and others who want to help. As their journey progresses, strange miracles begin to happen which could be amazing coincidences or something so much more in the magical season of Christmas....
As the story progresses, we learn through flashbacks, the secret of each of the characters. How they became homeless through loss of fortune, bad decisions, and terrible mistakes. We get a true feel for the plight of these characters just as they are starting to feel the true meaning of life as they finally have a purpose: save the child. This journey is multi-facted as they each deal with their pasts, come to grips with life and provide their own redemption.
This is certainly not the most original story. The story of redemption through helping others is as old as Greek Mythology. Heck, it's part of Joseph Campbell's notion of the rise of the reluctant hero. But the originality is not what's important. It's the execution and end result. This film works on many levels. The writing is spot-on especially the dialog and banter. I wouldn't describe it as "western" so much as it is a kind of screwball comedy that transcends cultural lines. Lots of slapstick, irony and deadpan facial expressions that bring life and interest to an otherwise depressing scenario. To say the film is a comedy doesn't do it justice. It's a bittersweet tale of the utmost seriousness, peppered with moments of necessary comic relief.
One of the stylings of anime is a slow shutter speed. In other words, there is actually less animation. Instead of the fluidity of top tier Disney animation, anime uses less fluid animation and it often feels choppy. This style wasn't annoying to me this time as it often is in other films. It felt more fluid and some of the detail was amazing. Little things like flowing hair or the movement of clothing in the wind was impeccably drawn and animated. The city of Tokyo was wonderfully drawn and had a certain life of its own. But that life was intentionally distant. The audience never connected with the city or the people in it, because the main characters were disconnected. Tokyo wasn't their loving home. It was a distant adversary, impossible to love, impossible to avoid.
It should be noted that English dubbing is not available on this DVD. In my eyes, that's a good thing. Pay attention and read the movie. Enjoy the performances as they were meant to be heard, not by some two-bit American voice actor collecting a paycheck.
The extras on the DVD are sparse, but interesting. There is a decent feature about the making and premiere of the film. Apparently, the voice actors are famous Japanese actors who I've never heard of. They are given the royalty treatment in this documentary and treated as celebrities of the highest order. They are arrogant, yet friendly and give a few insights into the making of the film and how being a voice-actor differs from more traditional acting roles.
We are also treated to some deleted scenes, but they don't add much to the story or give us any more enlightenment into the characters. Instead they would have slowed the pacing or distracted from the main story. As I usually say, there's a reason deleted scenes are deleted.
Also included are some trailer for Japanese anime films that I haven't seen. Some of them I added to my Netflix queue as a result of seeing them here.
This film is heartbreaking, funny, and full of redemption and hope. I strongly recommend it to people who have a hard time with traditional anime.
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older
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