'Tokyo Godfathers' Review: A beautiful remaster of a film that will chill and warm your heart in equal measure
The film follows three homeless people who discover a baby and set themselves the task of returning her to her family
There is a specific sub-genre of Christmas movies that has just as much wholesomeness, heart, and miracles, but is seen through a cracked lens. Its characters are people who have led broken lives, and their stories do not shy away from their lives' tragedies - in fact, that tragedy is a feature. Through it all, though, they come together in a cold city winter, work through their differences, and arrive at a happy ending none of them ever thought they would get, through the magic of found family. Though not billed as such, 'Tokyo Godfathers' is one of those films, and is animated storytelling at its best.
'Tokyo Godfathers' is, at first glance, a comedic romp. Three homeless characters - Gin (Toru Emori/Jon Avner), a gambling addict, Hana (Yoshiaki Umegaki/Shakina Nayfack), a former drag queen and Miyuki (Aya Okamoto/Victoria Grace), a runaway teenager - have found a family in each other, of sorts. Living together in homelessness, making the best of their lives on the streets of Tokyo, their world is upended when they hear the cries of an abandoned baby, and set themselves the task to returning the child to its rightful parents. Their journey through Tokyo takes them through many twists and turns, and along the way, we learn more about their own, personal stories as well.
There are two things that truly set this movie apart: its writing, and its atmosphere. The animation has a storybook feel of a dilapadated Tokyo streets come to life, giving an immersive, real feel to the city - a feeling that is sharply contrasted by the exaggerated animation style of the movie's characters. The cartoonish animation set against a much more static backdrop keeps the feel of the city, and its pathos, sharply in focus no matter how silly things get. It takes hyper-stylized emotions and grounds them, allowing the film to have its cake and eat it too, in terms of emotiveness. The city is beautiful - even its broken down, rusted junk heaps - and the film's expert use of light shading makes you feel the city's cold reach out from across the screen.
The writing, for its part, can be equally cold. There are some deeply tragic moments throughout the film, as it examines themes of abandonment and the challenges of homelessness. Each of the film's main three characters have their own story to tell, and each are, in their own way, saved by the grace of the baby they're forced to take care of. It is a film that breaks your heart, repeatedly, and then makes you smile just as quickly in its more comedic bits. The trio aren't quite family - they're broken people forced together by circumstance - but they're a team that has each other's backs, and grows closer over the course of the film.
'Tokyo Godfathers' will chill and warm your heart in equal measure, with a tendency towards the latter. It is a beautiful movie, and its remastered release only makes it more so. It's a must watch, and like all the best Christmas movies, will remain so no matter how many times you watch it.
'Tokyo Godfathers' is now available on VOD. It will be released on Blu-Ray on June 2, 2020.