Good day my appreciative readers! I hope you have had a wonderful Yuletide, or Christmas if you’d prefer. In respect to the season and because I have heard various feminist run outlets are bashing anime fan service again I will review an anime. This is one that you could link to very easily and destroy any and all argument about there not being “progressive” anime, and its actually pretty good to boot!
What I am entering for you here is one of the early works of the late visionary director Satoshi Kon – Tokyo Godfathers. Now, what is this movie about? Well are you familiar with the western “The Three Godfathers”? Think of a similar story to that, based in early 2000’s Tokyo Japan. This is going to be structured with no spoiler set up in the next paragraph, then spoilers set up right afterwards. Now then Lets Hammer This In!
To begin, this film happens from the late night hours of Christmas Eve all the way to New Years Day and takes our leads all over the districts of Japan’s capital. The three protagonists are two vagrants and a runaway. Going from left to right we have Hana, a male-to-female transgender and former drag queen who has an intense desire to be a mother. Miyuki is our brash and foul mouthed runaway who has no respect for authority and a dark secret. Then we have Gin, our complete and utter lush who drinks booze like its going out of style. To say these three particularly like each other would be stretching it somewhat but suffice it to say they get along well enough to keep to their group together most of the time. We begin with our adults attending a church service also at Hana’s request due to her Catholic beliefs, which is actually surprisingly rare in Japan, but obviously leads to free food for the vagrant trio. While scrounging for a Christmas present for Miyuki at Hana’s behest and bickering, they find a baby in a basket with a note and a bag that carried clues to the identity of her parents. Now that we have our premise I’m going to warn that from this point forward we are going into complete spoiler territory. If you want to avoid spoilers, you can skip to the bottom and see my final thoughts to decide whether or not to watch this for yourself.
Once our intrepid trio find our lost child they begin their journey by following the first clue, a key marked “1225”. This is noticed while Hana decides to call the baby a gift from God and decide “Oh I’m going to keep her!” Remember what I said about that desire for motherhood. Then as we watch a creative title sequence that takes advantage of Tokyo’s penchant for neon signs they discuss the parents of the now dubbed ‘Kiyoko’ (pure child) with Hana demonizing them for leaving a baby out in the cold on Christmas Eve. Here its hinted that Gin may have a person from his past with the same name. One theme that will be noticed is the suggestion that everything is connected. Gin then complains that they can’t just name her stating that she isn’t some pet, playing the voice of reason. This is is hilarious, seeing as he is the drunkard, because he also wants to turn the child over to the police to try to ensure the child’s safety. But this doesn’t stop vulgar Hana from trying to live her fantasy even though they live in a cardboard box. We then transition between our plot points with a haiku from Hana, showing that she is a very creative type of person.
We then transition to a homeless village in one of Tokyo’s parks where our dysfunctional hobo family lives. I feel to provide context here I should explain how homelessness is approached in Japan. While in America the homeless are seen as the trash of society they are actually given space and allowed to live their lives pretty openly in the land of the rising sun. In fact its not uncommon for homeless people to find jobs and live fairly decent lives with out much hassle. If I had a choice of a place to once again be homeless it would be in Japan. That being said we are in the crudely fashioned hovel with Kiyoko crying to eat, Hana not knowing a lick of what to do and Gin stepping in like a boss and taking care of the child like an experienced father would. Making one wonder more about his past, while the formula is being made with boiling water Gin reveals that he was married once, telling a sob story that makes Hana feel for the old fart. Later on we’ll see that he isn’t being honest with this. Another lesson this movie is choosing to tell is to not take everything at face value. But lets move to the next scene.
After Gin had fallen asleep Miyuki wakes him, having figured out that Hana ran off with baby Kiyoko to try to keep her. Then when he reasons that a child is always better with its real mother Hana decides to state “not necessarily,” claiming that at times a foster mother is better. She reveals that she never knew her real mother. She knows that its not a bright idea to be homeless raising a child, but wants to be sure that for at least a little while Kiyoko grows up with memories of being loved as opposed to just being shunted around in the foster care system without it. Hana also states that the parents that threw the child away just abandoned love. Then she makes a decision that gets our plot underway to find the mother and ask her ‘why?’ We then snap to them finding the locker the key belongs to. This gives us a bag full of belongings of the presumed parents including another key and a few pictures along with our next clue, business cards to a club.
Along the way by train they are stopped due to snowfall, then Miyuki gets a spook when another train stops next to her and ends up having her own father on it. She then loses her shit and bolts, Hana and Gin in swift pursuit not knowing what is going on. Walking along to their destination and after some dramatics from Hana bellyaching about being hungry, they find a cemetery. This is important because in Japanese culture its not uncommon to find food left for one’s ancestors as an offering. So while bickering and searching for what provisions they could muster, they try to determine where to go. At the same time they find a yakuza boss being ran over by his own car. Yes, I realize that’s a very what the fuck situation there. It is then explained that he forgot the parking brake after trying to get freed and after some discussion he takes our outcasts with him to his daughter’s wedding as its at the place in question. Why is the wedding there? Because the husband is the proprietor! I know, this is a crazy movie.
We get to the wedding to find that the boss’s daughter is also named…. Kiyoko. Like I said before everything is connected in this movie. Then after some talking to the groom they find out the supposed mother’s name is Sachiko. She used to work for the yakuza boss, but quit after getting pregnant. Then Gin starts to get flustered as this guy was part of the reason his life was actually ruined. But before Gin can strike and ruin everything a Brazilian breaks in with a Russian pistol and tries to kill the boss. The groom jumps in to defend his intended father in law and ends up with three holes in him. The kid makes the escape by taking Miyuki and the baby hostage. Before going on I have to explain why we know this character is Brazilian. A group of Japanese had gone to Brazil in the 1800’s for work. Now with a desire to see their grandparents’ home and live there, thinking they would have a better life, a lot of Brazilian nationals illegally migrate to Japan. They think it their birthright even if they can only speak Portuguese. That’s right, Brazil is Japan’s Mexico. Now with that funny thought in play, our trio is completely broken up, Hana deciding to try to find the girls and Gin deciding to fuck right off and see himself as trash as he finds another homeless man half dead in the street.
As he is helping the guy we cut away to Miyuki at the Brazilian’s flophouse, in which she tries to hold a conversation with the mama there who gives Kiyoko a breast feeding and finds out some of her backstory. At the same time, Gin is fulfilling the old vagrant’s last requests, seeing a possible future for himself in the old codger. After the old vagrant passes away, we learn that one of his belongings is the next clue to the identity of Kiyolo’s parents. Then, a group of teenage delinquents come after Gin.
We then start learning that Miyuki’s father is a policeman, and then find both Gin and the old vagrant horrifically beaten up the pricks steal an envelope from Gin. We’ll get back to this later. For now, we go back to Miyuki to find out that her mother was extremely religious, not as a Christian but its here we get her reasons for hating authority. We also find out that Miyuki used to be a pudgy girl. Obviously being malnourished as a runaway lost her some weight. She then reveals she had a cat named Angel who died, and because of the cat’s death she stabbed her Dad in the gut. This traumatic event is the entire basis for her running away, afraid that he would have to arrest her for assault and that her life was over.
During a flashback of the event Miyuki starts to imagine the rest as her new family, which confuses the fuck out of her when she starts hearing Hana’s voice to open a window and sees her there exhausted yet relieved to see the two children safe. They then go off to figure out what do next as Miyuki asks about Gin. Hana, being mad at him for how he approached the entire situation says she could care less what happens to him. Then Miyuki makes the hilarious claim that Hana is in love with Gin knowing Gin would never have such a ‘homo’ relationship. By now you very well know that both Gin and Miyuki don’t care about the trans status of Hana. They see her as a guy, but just to mess with the cabbie that they are now riding with Hana starts hitting on him. The poor man is rather horrified with such a prospect as Hana obviously doesn’t pass for a second. They then find the dead vagrant Gin was caring for. Hana thinks it was Gin. Once its apparent that its not him the two pay their respects and then get back to trying to figure out where Gin is at. They find him passing out in an alley due to loss of blood from his earlier fight.
He thinks he sees an angel asking if he wants her magic or an ambulance. In all hilarity he says ‘ambulance,’ and we find out that she isn’t so much a she. It then fades to the girls and Miyuki mentions that the child can’t sleep out in the cold, at which point Hana admits they have no choice and end up at a club called “Angel’s Tower.” There, even more hilariously, our entire group ends back together after Hana asks her ‘mother’ for help. The mother jumps up in Hana’s arms, having apparently missed her greatly. Now we get to find out Hana’s full backstory so strap in. It’s a doozy.
Apparently Hana used to have a lover named Ken that died from AIDS. When Mama-san asks Hana why she didn’t just come back we learn that she was once her star songstress, having used to pass a lot more easily, and having a strong voice. But with that strong voice came a quick temper as a patron heckled her too much after she threw a drink on him as part of the act. Hana went violent and was so mortified by the aftermath thought she could never return.
After the remaining reconciliations, recovery and seeing Gin in a dress they decide to set off to where Sachiko’s house should be. Our second act opened by another one of Hana’s haiku. We then see their early morning journey to the house in question to only find…. a burnt out hole. As all hope seems lost the neighborhood leader comes by and gives the story about her and her loser husband who was a terminally addicted gambler and violent drunk, which triggers a reaction from Gin of something familiar. They then discuss with the busybodies of the neighborhood and search the three month old wreckage for any remaining evidence. Interestingly enough one woman says “occasionally you’d see bruises” and after someone tries to sympathize with Sachiko the neighbor says “Oh no not on her, on him!” Now we are getting somewhere interesting with our investigation about our poor Kiyoko’s circumstances. Then after discussing the situation up to this point and finding the next potential location, they rest at a cafe. It is here that we have learned Miyuki saw a message from her father in the paper and decided to try to call him. Then as she chickens out Gin changes his sob story a bit. Gin gets into a fight with a drunken patron who drags them all outside. An ambulance comes out of nowhere to run into the now vacant shop, barely missing them. Hana then faints from all the excitement and being hit by a piece of shrapnel that fortunately didn’t get close to hitting the baby.
When they arrive at the hospital we meet a nurse who is also named… Kiyoko.
Everything is connected.
While Miyuki talks to Nurse Kiyoko and Hana is unconscious in a hospital bed getting a blood transfusion, we learn that the groom from earlier survived and is recovering. From Gin we learned he had saved up 30,000 yen to give to his daughter (if he were ever to meet her) to make up for being a shit dad, but because Hana had no health insurance and Japan is a direct pay for health services system, Gin had to pay up with that saved money. It is then while crying about the loss of funds that Nurse Kiyoko pops by again, looks straight at Gin and says… “Dad?”
Everything is connected.
At this point the estranged father and daughter have a long talk about everything; How his wife and child had always looked for him and missed him greatly, about how they didn’t care about his problems. She explains that her mother did her best to care for their bicycle shop. Then after the last pieces of Gin’s story fall into place we find out Nurse Kiyoko is marrying the Doctor of the ER who is as old as Gin is. Go figure.
Hana then gets irritated after knowing everything, while Miyuki is actually kind of moved by everything. Nurse Kiyoko gives Gin him her address and number and says to come by anytime. But now our journey continues. The group splits again. The girls go to find Sachiko when Gin finds out that a baby was stolen from a ward in a neighboring hospital and sees a sketch that looks remarkably like Kiyoko. The plot thickens in the final stretch.
While Hana states that she is going to take Kiyoko to the police and waxes dramatic, Hana and Miyuki find Sachiko about to jump off a bridge to her demise. After saving and slapping some sense into the suicidal woman quite literally Sachiko starts telling her own sob story, intent on sympathy. With that Hana returns the child to Sachiko as Gin goes and finds the husband. After some discussion between the two drunk gamblers it is revealed that Sachiko did have a child, that was stillborn and out of grief of having lost that child stole our Kiyoko so she could still be a mother. So Hana and Miyuki just gave the baby back to a crazed, violent, and suicidal kidnapper. Great job Mama-Hana! A winner is you!
From this point it becomes a chase to save Kiyoko from a most certain death in one of the craziest anime chase sequences I’ve ever seen ending with Hana and Kiyoko falling off the top of a skyscraper to be barely saved buy a burst of wind and an awning, inspiring one character to say “Hey there, is that Tranny Poppins or what?” Honestly the first clue to Hana should have been the fact that Kiyoko was crying non stop. That wouldn’t happen with a good and true mother.
As we conclude our story, Kiyoko is returned to her parents. Sachiko is arrested and taken care of, and all threads are tied up save for Miyuki’s. When the parents of Kiyoko decide they wanted to meet the three hobos with the desire to name them as Kiyoko’s Godfathers, the lead detective warns of their nature but gives in, opening up the door to see Miyuki, and turns out to be….her Dad.
Everything is connected.
I realize that was a bit long but this is an hour and a half long movie with a lot of plot points to run through. The fact they were able to fit so much into such a small amount of time is astonishing alone. If you skipped the spoilers then you might be curious now at least but I still wish to give my over all outlook on this.
For such a story with so many small characters each one seems real and fleshed out. There are no real stereotypes here even if they try to joke about being stereotypes from Hana’s self deprecating “homo” jokes to Miyuki’s spoiled brattiness. Even characters you may only see once seem to have a depth to them. It is a shame he died so young (in 2010 at 46 of pancreatic cancer.) Also, the pacing and the use of Hana’s haiku to separate all three acts is masterful to say the least. Not to mention the Tokyo that is portrayed in this film is at all times alive. Its not always pretty, but it feels like the real thing. Such is the talent of Satoshi Kon’s execution in both writing and directing.
The balance between the seriousness of the subject matter and comedic timing was spot on despite both of Kon’s prior works to this masterpiece being purely dramatic pieces with little to no humor. The comedic aspects Kon develops here follows him into his following three works and shows that if he didn’t get slammed with his illness so harshly that he would be on the level of Miyazaki today. So my overall rating of this film is wondrous because even though its a movie based during the Christmas season you don’t have to watch it during Christmas to appreciate the overall tale. This is a must see film, it can currently be watched for free on Sony’s Crackle service or can be found online in DVD form with subtitles easily for about $12. There is no real reason to not own it if you have the money to spare.
Now that that is out of the way there is one more thing I want to touch upon seriously, and I think you all must have noticed this as well as I was going through it. This movie was released in 2003 and spent about 3 years in production beforehand, also there were quite a few things in there that you might have noticed concerning what is constantly talked about on this site. Abusive women, gynocentrism leading to men feeling useless, Men going their own way, even the importance of fathers overall to a child’s stable development. Not to mention how far a father would go for the sake of his child no matter the situation. Even proper adoptive parents do what they can for who they feel is their proper child. It even shows the plight of homeless men no matter where they are. Does this mean that I think Mr. Kon was keen to men’s issues in the same ways we are? Maybe, maybe not. We are unable to find out now as he never mentioned it in any interviews connected to this film, though I also doubt anyone knew the questions to ask considering the state of the movement in that time. Could this be a way to covertly red pill someone? Perhaps, but I’d still suggest they watch The Red Pill documentary as well. Though this could be a nice appetizer. Now if you want to discuss more about this film please lets discuss it in the comments below. I think it will be really positive to discuss this movie.
Next week I’m going to bring in the New Year with a fun question that might be relevant to today. Did gynocentrism cause Rome to fall? Until then please remember to Game Freely.
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