Tokyo Godfathers (2003) Dir. Satoshi Kon
Moving on from a twisted sci-fi, to a creepy, psychedelic thriller, to a sad love story, this time Kon takes us on a trip across Tokyo in this very funny and intelligent comedy.
Christmas Day, the happiest day of the year, is our starting point. We meet three most unlikely characters: Gin, a middle-aged guy, Hana, a transvestite, and Miyuki, a teenage runaway. They’re all homeless, sharing a box together. A strange parody of a family. Then, by pure accident, they find an abandoned baby in the trash. The baby, a little girl, changes their lives. Although Hana want to keep the baby, they agree that it needs to be taken to her parents. Thus, starts an extraordinary journey full of unexpected meetings (a homeless old man with a mysterious sack) and adventures (a fat guy stuck under his car).
Kon constructs a web of links, in which everyone is connected somehow to the story. It seems that a series of bizarre and coincidental events push the action forward. Yet, we can’t help wondering how each of the character’s stories are linked to this baby. What’s more, it’s executed in a light-hearted way. Making sure we have a good laugh, Kon turns it into a feel-good, joyful comedy. At the same time, he doesn’t avoid raising serious questions. Underneath the humor and constant jokes, he touches upon grave issues. What is a human life worth? How much is a homeless bum worth? Is he worth anything if nobody’ll cry after his death? Does a homeless person have a right to raise a child? There’s also a question about motherhood and who a mother is. Hana, who repeats that he’s a guy, but feels like a woman inside, proves that a transvestite may have more maternal feelings than a real woman.
One of the moments I find especially moving is when Miyuki meets a Spanish family. She doesn’t speak Spanish, and they don’t speak Japanese. Yet, they manage to communicate. Kindness and warm feelings they offer transcend any language differences. Besides, literature and text become significant for the characters. Literary references are expertly interwoven into the plot: occasionally, a haiku pops up on the screen, or Miyuki and Gin throw a Dostoyevski at each other; there’s also a reference to John Donne. Apart from small intertextualities, text is important. The characters discover many things reading them in a thrown-out newspapers and magazines. Sometimes, it’s a way for their past to get back to them.
As for the baby, it not only changes them, but also refines them. Their quest is to find the baby’s parents and to find out why they abandoned her. Quite beautifully, it triggers their memories and confessions. Thus, we get to know about their pasts, why they ended up homeless. Gin reveals the truth about his wife and daughter though we’re not sure whether they’re dead or alive — being drunk all the time, he’s twisting the story. Miyuki, a kick-ass tomboy, who’d rather die than show any human emotions, opens up about her father, a policemen, and a shocking event that took place the night she ran away. Finally, Hana, overly emotional, at times even unstable, but good at heart, shares her memories about her childhood and a man she loved once. All these tales, so very human (each of us has a similar story), makes us wonder what makes a family. Is it a roof over your head? Or a good husband or wife? Or perhaps money? Very subtly, these questions come back with images of picture-perfect families on photos and billboards.
Satoshi Kon serves us yet another masterpiece. This comedy will not disappoint you. Instead, it’ll make you both laugh and cry. It’s gleeful, funny, witty, and thought-inspiring. Plus, its climax (without giving away anything) is an impressive chase through the snowy streets and back alleys of Tokyo with a few intense dramatic moments. Once it ends, it’ll leave you with a smile on your face and sadness in your heart that it’s over.
Long days, pleasant nights,