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.