Tokyo Godfathers: Satoshi Kon’s Christmas Story

Why this is by far the best Christmas film in existence.

When one talks about Christmas movies, one would think about movies like The Grinch or the Christmas Chronicles. Not that they’re bad but are often on the safer side of films. Then we have the tragicomedy film by Satoshi Kon. Tokyo Godfathers 2003, a film about 3 homeless chaps trying to make the best out of what seemed like a pretty miserable Christmas.

This is purely about the story, and the way Satoshi Kon directed it. I didn’t go deep into the technicalities like I did with Tom Cross’s films in the article Tom Cross: Understanding the cuts. But if you like this, then I think you’ll like my Grave of the Fireflies write-up as well. This is also the second writeup I on a film by Satoshi Kon, other one being on Millennium Actress.

Also, I know it is a bit too early for Christmas films… but bear with me.

Tokyo Godfathers main characters
Visuals from the film Tokyo Godfathers (c) Satoshi Kon

Introduction

The three characters are Gin, the middle-aged alcoholic who ran away from his problems. Tells himself to amend his ways and go back to face his problems but wastes time wallowing in self pity. Then we have the transgender Hana, who is such a gem of a character. Her past seems as grim as her current situation. She was always an orphan who never knew her mother and never really had an actual family. Then finally we have Miyuki who ran away from home after stabbing her father because of a cat. She regrets her actions but couldn’t forgive herself for her deeds which prevent her from going back home.

And on Christmas day, while foraging for books in a dumpsite, they came across a baby. Hana, wanting to be a mother, convinced the others to take care of the baby for just one night. They decided on giving it back to the police the following day. And this is where the whole journey began, which is certainly quite the ride.

Tokyo Godfathers baby again
The baby found in the dumpster.
Visuals from the film Tokyo Godfathers (c) Satoshi Kon

Delving into Satoshi Kon’s film style

Kon is a man who can look at one topic from as many angles as one possibly can. Whether that is Paranoia Agent or even to an extent, Perfect Blue. The topic here being family and how one looks at this topic differently depending on where they came from. Kon looks at this concept from the lens of the three main characters and the supporting characters. Like the family who couldn’t have babies, so they resorted to stealing one.

Tokyo Godfathers surprised
Visuals from the film Tokyo Godfathers (c) Satoshi Kon

One who has known Satoshi Kon would also know the level of details he puts into his films. Every movement, every small habit, everything about the characters and the story is carefully crafted to be able to stand out and give as much meaning as possible. Though the characters in Tokyo Godfathers don’t stand out like normal anime characters with their pastel coloured hair and eyes. But they are as memorable if not more. This is because of how are made to give off a certain vibe to which we can relate to. Well, at least to some degree. 

Again, like my previous write-up on Kon’s film, I will not be delving into his film techniques. There are 1001 videos, vlogs, blogs, tutorials, and many more things doing that.

Family

A family, according to many, is defined not solely by blood relation but consists of the people who support, love you, and the people you can confide in and trust. The only question now is whether this group of homeless people are really what you’d call a family. For others, this is something that’s temporary and would break at any moment. Mainly because they are just a group of people who came together for comfort after rejecting everything and everyone else. 

person holding baby s feet
Photo by Andreas Wohlfahrt on Pexels.com

But as we go along, we see the banters and the friendly jabs of the three against each other. These are things which we face with our family daily… especially when one has a sister as annoying as the one I have.

After finding the baby, we felt as though this tightly knitted pseudo family were falling apart at the seams. This is the part which we start to see the darker aspect of each character finally shows. The part they never wanted to show to the only companions they have left. Maybe because they felt showing this side of them will result with their new companions deserting them again. They also might be scared that getting close to them might get them to make the same mistake again. The last thing they want to do is hurt the only people they have left who they can call family. 

Gin meeting his daughter after many years.
Visuals from the film Tokyo Godfathers (c) Satoshi Kon

Gin’s lie that his family is dead is revealed to his companion to be false. In reality, he just ran away, leaving them with a debt that they had to clear in his name. It’s not like he is proud of this, and we see he’s trying to find a way to make amends with his actual family. Even Miyuki can go back home anytime she pleases but chooses not to. She can’t get over the fact that she stabbed her own father while accusing him of throwing away her cat. Even though she understood what she did was wrong, it was only made worse because of a certain message. A message from her father on the newspaper that her cat returned and pleads her to come back home. Even though her family forgave her, she couldn’t find a way to forgive herself.

Miyuki calling her family but unable to talk.
Visuals from the film (c) Satoshi Kon

And finally Hana who already has abandonment issues, running away from her group who accepted her for who she is. She ran away because she thought she was being a hindrance to her “Mother” because of the scuffled. Rather than being abandoned again like how her actual mother ran away from her, she takes the initiative to abandon them first. Though she came back, it was when she needed them the most.

Hana’s Mother.
Visuals from the film (c) Satoshi Kon

Like Gin, I’m sure there are more than a few of us who made a mistake and push said responsibility to another person. And Miyuki, who has been living with such privileges, failing to empathise with anyone else. This causes her to assume she’s always right and not willing to look at anyone else’s perspectives. Even taking to the extreme where she stabs the people closest to her. Even though she realises her mistakes, she felt it was too late to reconcile with her family.

And finally Hana, with her abandonment issues, the trauma of never having a family who love her. This plus being a transvestite makes her feel that she is bound to be hated or rejected by everyone. She couldn’t see that she deserves and has people who love and cares for her. This resulted in her always being in a fight-or-flight mindset, even with the closest people.

The one thing that brings them together is how they each have a past which they would rather not face. Even resort to lying, running away, and stealing to avoid this past of theirs. But they are always anticipating the time when they have to face this past and the responsibilities that come along with it. This want to face the past while doing their hardest to run away from this situation is what makes the film so relatable to each and every viewer of the overall film.

Visuals from the film (c) Satoshi Kon

This small yet significant similarity brought this group of misfits together to build some kind of pseudo-family. The funniest part is how they are actively running away from their families and act like they don’t need it. But then shield themselves from this reality by using this makeshift family. 

Everything seems to be going well until they happen to find this baby. And in typical Christmas miracle fashion, we see how the magic causes coincidences which force them to face this past of theirs. Whether it is how Gin finally meets his daughter and Hana going back to her Mother and her sisters. Also, how the officer who was in charge of finding the baby ended up being Miyuki’s father. 

Final word

I think what sets Tokyo Godfathers’ film apart from most other Christmas films is how we can watch a film about a drunk, a transvestite and a runaway girl who stabbed her father living in absolute poverty and still somehow make it feel like a genuine Christmas family film. It also delves deep into the world of having a family, whether it is the awkward topics we don’t want to bring up but still do so, or the banter, and simply the support we give and expect back from these people who we like to call family

upset young indian couple after conflict
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

I’ve seen blood families who always have to walk in eggshells when with each other. Any disruption causes massive arguments which boils over and just hurt each other for no reason. They have this complacency that they either don’t even need a family and can run away any moment they please. So they can be as toxic as they want. While on the flip-side, there are people who think they can do as they please because simply they’re family. This kind of toxicity in a household usually ends with the family being in shambles. Or if they’re still together, always feel draining to be with which is never a healthy environment to be in.

In a world where everyone is too busy chasing dreams and materials, it is the people who have none who understand how important it is to just have someone beside you the most. Tokyo Godfathers made this message very clear throughout the film.

Tokyo Godfathers baby
Visuals from the film (c) Satoshi Kon

Again, like with Gin and him saving up a small amount to give back to his daughter, even though money was never the issue between him and his actual family. Or Hana only coming back to her mother at her most desperate moment, even though she could’ve made that effort way earlier. And finally Miyuki trying to call her home instead of actually facing her family. None of their solutions are perfect, and the whole point of the film is not to show the perfect solution to fix everything and have a happy Christmas at the end. Satoshi Kon basically wants us to understand how difficult life is when it comes to how we face problems between ourselves and the people around us. But he still wants to show how making an effort to better ourselves is more than enough for a happy Christmas film.

And to me is the main reason to watch Tokyo Godfathers by Satoshi Kon. You will never get a Christmas film made in this way from anyone else.

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