Tokyo Godfathers Movie Review

PREFACE: There might be a… slight difference in portrayals of certain things in the old Japanese audio and the new 2020 English dub of this movie. Being the weeb that I am, I watched it subbed. This is a review of the subbed version.


If there was any good part of my decision to watch Ride Your Wave, it was seeing the preview of Satoshi Kon’s 2003 film, Tokyo Godfathers. I traveled uncomfortably far from my home in the ungodly hours of night, because that’s where the nearest theater happened to be. Was it worth the hassle?

In Tokyo Godfathers, three homeless bumpkins go dumpster diving and *play Zelda jingle* find a baby. Since they’ve got nothing better to do, they set out to find the darn thing’s birth parents.

One thing that any viewer will notice, at least a viewer who’s used to current anime, is the movie’s rather unconventional portrayal of Tokyo. Instead of the bee-bopping, fun utopian metropolis, we are shown the less lawful underbelly of Tokyo that Japan’s tourism industry doesn’t want you to see. It’s much more “realistic”, which is something that you might enjoy over those battle shounens.

But Tokyo Godfathers is a satire, and that means it’s not all underbelly. In fact, no matter how dark or emotional the movie gets, it manages to never take itself too seriously. There’s tons of witty banter throughout this movie, but unlike most anime, the humor is much more- *Fmuh!*- nuanced (if you don’t know what that Fmuh means, check out the 1968 movie The Odd Couple). You’ll need to pay attention to the mannerisms of the characters, as well as crap happening off in the background in order to be able to understand how Tokyo Godfathers works its magic.

In terms of the narrative structure, Tokyo Godfathers follows these people throughout the crowded streets of Tokyo as they get involved in all kinds of antics with the baby. This includes getting invited to a party with the Yakuza, and narrowly avoiding a Terminator-style vehicular accident. But every so often, they break the ice with tidbits on their backstories, until they finally form a cohesive whole.

So who are these bumpkins anyway? Tokyo Godfathers stars Gin, Miyuki, and Hana. Gin is an old, cynical drunkard who became those things because he ran away from his life issues, Miyuki is a bratty and spunky teenage girl (and a loli, in case any of you modern fans cared), and Hana is a retired drag queen. These three have tons of Laurel and Hardy-esque banter with each other, but in terms of individual strength, Hana takes the cake. She is extremely eccentric, and behaves very flamboyantly, providing a bulk of the comic relief. But when something needs to be done, she’ll damn well do it. I can imagine that the animators had the most fun with her mannerisms.

The music also helps sell the screwballiness of the movie. The music pieces, when they’re not Christmas music, are intentionally dissonant and jarring, and sound like a song by King Gnu even though they didn’t exist at the time. 

It all comes together in the movie’s fantastic visual presentation. Normally, I’d write off great visuals as fluff, but here, it’s just as important to the plot as the plot itself. Most of us modern viewers have come to assume that anime are simply incapable of depicting themes like dreariness, suspense, and general negativity. But in Tokyo Godfathers, the desaturated colors and clever use of limited lighting effects conveys the mood wonderfully (it’s like they actually had funding to make it or something). Small details, like the various and creepily hyper-realistic adverts posted everywhere, make the underbelly of Japan feel otherworldly in its own way. Something so hideous has never looked so beautiful!

In addition, the animation is marvelous as well. Not a single frame is wasted to bring Tokyo Godfathers to life. It is most prevalent in the main characters, who tend to morph into completely different forms at times. This level of expressiveness is something that no live action actor can achieve.

There are TWO brief instances of… ahem… “nips” in the movie. You have been warned. 

Final Verdict: 9.4/10

If you wanna be one of those people who thinks that older anime are better than newer anime, then Tokyo Godfathers makes a great example. It’s a weird and wonderful movie that takes a bit of open mindedness to enjoy. At the time of this post, it’s the best anime feature film I’ve seen since Ghost in the Shell. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes satires such as The Odd Couple.

Ride Your Wave Movie Review

Recently, I’ve realized that anime feature films are where Japanese animation puts its best foot forward. By a long shot. So, I decided to go against my gut and see Ride Your Wave, a new romance film from the studio Science SARU. Were mistakes made that day?

Can’t answer that question without a brief rundown of the premise first. A cute surfer girl named Hinako Mukaimizu moves from Chiba to a new town. One night, her life almost- literally- goes up in flames when her apartment catches fire. She is saved by a young fireman named Minato Hinageshi. They fall in love immediately and live happily ever after. Nothing goes south whatsoever.

Spoiler alert, it goes south. No, this isn’t even a spoiler, because if you’ve seen ANY romance for teens, or Up, then you likely figured what was going to happen just based on that last paragraph. What happens is that Minato drowns.

But don’t worry, this is magical YA-land! In the aftermath of his death, Hinako starts seeing Minato in bodies of water. You know, like you do.

There are three reasons why I wasn’t even remotely invested emotionally in Ride Your Wave. First, I never fell in love with a real life human ever, so I can’t relate. Second, as someone who’s been a teenager, I KNOW that love at first sight is the most BS thing ever; merely just some hormones going off in response to primal urges and other stimuli. Third, and most importantly, it is incredibly cut and dry (despite being water-themed). I even spent more than half of the movie thinking about the movie previews that they showed, and I was still able to follow Ride Your Wave‘s plot without missing a beat.

Ride Your Wave is basically your typical YA novel, except with that touch of anime whimsy. I can’t really say anything else about the story, because there isn’t anything else to say. The characters are all typical teen templates, too. I’m probably going to forget all of their names after completing this post.

The music, though, is the absolute WORST aspect of the movie. While half of it is pretty harmless BGM, the other half is the freaking overused song: “Brand New Story” by GENERATIONS from Exile Tribe. I had seen the band’s name come up occasionally on Apple Music’s Similar Artists tab, but I never got around to trying their music. Because of how it’s used in Ride Your Wave, I was not given a good first impression. While it’s not the worst song by itself, it is a plot relevant song in the movie. This means that you will have to hear it ad naaaaaaaauseuuuuum! Blech.

But hey, the visuals are all worth it, right (*sarcasm*)? I’m sure a lot of people will go gaga over Ride Your Wave‘s bright, Wind Waker-esque art style and fluid animation. I’ll admit that I might’ve silently gawked at a couple of shots. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to serve any purpose to the story’s themes.

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Final Verdict: 6.8/10

Ride Your Wave is nothing special; it’ll likely be forgotten when the next “pulse-pounding, break-your-heart-and-put-it-back-together” thing comes out (especially if it’s directed by Shinkai). I only saw it because the anime movies that I’ve seen have consistently maintained a higher standard than their TV counterparts, and despite all the salt, Ride Your Wave does the same. I can’t exactly recommend it, mainly because it was one-night only. So if the Blu-Ray comes out, borrow it from a friend, since there’s no such thing as a movie rental store in this world. 

The Tale of Princess Kaguya Movie Review

Cropped out the poster of the movie

Just in case you haven’t read my profile, I’m gonna let you in on something: I’ve been intensely studying Japanese culture since earlier this year. And as such, I already knew how Ghibli’s adaptation of The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, titled The Tale of Princess Kaguya, would turn out. And thank Jizo that I did! You’ll see why later in this post.

To sum it up, it all begins when an old bamboo cutter finds a baby girl inside a bamboo stalk. Since this is a Shinto story, he doesn’t bat an eye whatsoever at this find, and decides to raise her. Before we know it, bamboo stalks start oozing gold and his daughter is in the lap of luxury! 

Normally, I’d discuss visuals last. But since the paint-like art style of Kaguya stands out so much, I gotta talk about it first. My first instinct is to chalk it up as gimmicky. However, the implementation of the different textures of the brush, as well as colors, helps the movie convey mood and motion better than most modern TV anime. The simplistic designs also help make characters super expressive and movements to be consistently smooth and fluid.

But the question becomes: “If you took away the unique artstyle, is the movie still any good?” Narratively speaking, Kaguya is more-or-less a family drama of the “Kid just wants to be a kid but gets all of it yanked away from them on account of their dumb, money-grubbing parent(s)”, a la Citizen Kane. I personally don’t care much for family dramas as a narrative theme, and I only chose to watch this movie because of my familiarity with the original story.

And I made a good call, because otherwise I don’t know if I would’ve liked Kaguya otherwise. At two and a half hours, this adaptation of a folk take that takes about five or ten minutes to read takes its sweet time. Despite how she’s supposed to be rapidly growing, it takes about the first hour for her to actually become a teenager and for the core narrative to start in earnest. Leading up to that, you end up deathly curious as to what her origin is (well, you’re meant to at least), but find yourself just watching a kid just bumbling around with other kids for a while. As admittedly boring this first act is, I greatly prefer it over the alternative, which is to have the sh** go down within the first five minutes before you can acclimate yourself to her childhood. Because of this, it actually feels emotional when the aforementioned sh** goes down.

But the thing is, despite how expressive the characters are in the animation, most of them are very unremarkable. The titular character, Kaguya, is probably the only one you’ll remember over time. Like in the story, she’s a real rambunctious rascal, and merely wants to live out that Cindi Lauper dream of girls just wanting to have fun. Watching everything crumble around her is pretty darn engaging, as sadistic as that sounds.

Her parents are polar opposites, with the “bad” parent being the dad. He starts as this jolly old fart and becomes an utter ass in his hunger for glory. Fortunately, Kaguya’s mom still gets her daughter, but she can’t do much. Time period and all that. Most other characters, besides Best Girl Chubby Loli Servant, aren’t that interesting.

The background music is nice. It’s obviously traditional, old school Japanese classical instruments, and it’s very beautiful. I noticed, in the opening credits, that the music is by the same guy that did Children of the Sea (if only it premiered in American theaters *glares at GKids*).

One big issue I can see viewers having with Kaguya is its final act. I can’t even imagine what audiences thought when they first saw it. I mean, this movie spends almost two hours building up this big family drama, and just when it’s about to go down… from straight outta left field… POW! Sudden new development! But there was no way around it. Here’s a fun fact: that ending is canon. I’m not joking; this movie’s ending isn’t Ghibli taking any serious creative liberties; they are following the source material. From a narrative standpoint, it is a very BS note to go out on, but there ya have it. Maybe someday, Disney will do a fluffier adaptation and retcon it like they did with the Grimm brothers, but for now this is what we get. I would’ve been livid if I wasn’t familiar with the source material, that’s for sure.

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Final Verdict: 8.5/10

It’s slow-paced, relatable, and cynical; no wonder it was so successful in the West! In all honesty, despite how good The Tale of Princess Kaguya is overall, I can’t easily recommend it. It is very slow, nuanced, very cultural, and that ending… Hoo boy! For all intents and purposes, this is probably the best version of her story. But movies are an inherently bigger investment than a cute little folktale, so the crotch-kick at the end hurts more than reading the original. It all depends on what medium you’d prefer. I’d recommend Kaguya if you want a reprieve from the cheapo anime that they churn out like Jeff Daniels in that disgusting scene of Dumb and Dumber, or if you’re studying Japanese culture and want to know about one of its famous folktales.