directed by Satoshi Kon
The camera slouches against a drainpipe, a stream of crimson flowing from its rusty elbow. The source of the red gunk is revealed in an abrupt cut: blood spews through wooden floorboards, shed from a knifed, kneeling man. Grasping the guilty blade, an adolescent girl chides her stabbed father for losing her pet cat. Her stunned parents are supplanted by unkempt companions: Gin ‘the geezer’ and Miss Hana, a former drag queen. Kitchen counters give way to ditched trash, the scene looping back to the alley as the teen, Miyuki, wakes.
Tokyo Godfathers follows this homeless trio as they discover an abandoned infant on Christmas Eve, but the cliché of seasonal magic is thwarted throughout. When Miyuki spots her father by chance on a snow-stranded tram, she hides behind the condensation-clammed windows to avoid reunion. Far from bringing peace to all Earth, the baby is thrown about like a hot potato, each character taking a turn at playing guardian. The animation revels in its repetitions and circularities: a man dies thrice, several vehicles crash, and the gums of the geezer and Miss Hana lack the same tooth.
Words by Elizabeth Brown
The opening credits of Tokyo Godfathers are built into the surroundings, the crew’s names plastered onto billboards, shop fronts, and passing vehicles. The filmmakers choose to commodify themselves, advertising their involvement as if selling wares. The subtitles prevent the message from being lost to non-Japanese-speakers, but we aren’t always so spoiled. When a character speaks in Spanish, no translation is offered. As Miyuki tries to understand, those of us with limited knowledge of the language struggle with her.
In another scene, our protagonists stand on a tram that grinds to a halt, the blame placed on the winter weather. The passengers are crammed together, moving as a single mass, some squashed against the panes of glass. Fabric is held to faces, as they attempt to avoid the ghastly smell wafting by. They cringe as Gin’s odour meets their nostrils, while Miss Hana bemoans the heat. The soundtrack peaks in volume and the baby wails. As Miyuki spots her father opposite, we share her desire to escape.
Words by John Wadsworth
More to discover
You can watch the US release trailer for Tokyo Godfathers here.
Question of the day
Perhaps not. It is difficult to tread the line between defending your work from misinterpretation and narrowing people’s experiences.
– Katherine Fieldgate, Silent Frame Sub-Editor (via Patreon →)