Reviewby Krissy Naudus, Sep 16th 2003
It looks to be a busy time for Satoshi Kon. Millennium Actress is being released in theaters as I write this. But already the acclaimed director is gearing up for his next movie, a sentimental family comedy titled Tokyo Godfathers. For those familiar with his previous work (Perfect Blue) the phrase "family comedy" may seem unlikely and surprising, but that's exactly what it is. It's an unlikely, surprising, delightful, enjoyable comedy. And it lives up to the reputation he is building for himself as a great director.
Tokyo Godfathers is the story of three homeless people (an old bum, a transvestite, and a teenage runaway) who find a baby in a trash heap and then try to return the little girl to her mother. The film follows the trio as they traverse Tokyo, following clues and leads left behind by the baby's parents. Serendipity is their constant companion, ensuring that they find what they need and that the plot keeps moving despite the apparent hopelessness of the quest.
The plot is simple and straightforward, a bit of a divergence from Kon's previous work. But those were dramas, which fit comfortably with the distorted realities and emotional conflicts that constructed the previous plots. There a few flashbacks in Godfathers, but they emerge naturally as internal memories or anecdotes that serve to fill in gaps about the protagonists' histories. There are few of the conflicting realities and confused perceptions that usually make Satoshi Kon movies such a head trip.
Despite the simplicity of the plot, this is not a shallow movie. Tokyo Godfathers is a largely driven by its characters, who are all interesting and generally avoid being caricaturish (though admittedly, the transvestite was played for laughs a few times). I describe this as a family comedy, and in part that's because the trio functions as a family (husband/wife, parents/child) and they readily accept the new addition into their unit.
The religious aspects of the movie are also interesting. The movie covers the period between Christmas and New Year's, and the baby is constantly referred to as an angel sent by God (this would be the most religious depiction of Christmas I've ever seen in an anime, which is largely a secular holiday in Japan). Even if the movie is not overtly complex, there are certainly enough subtle undertones to write some good academic papers on this film after its release.
Satoshi Kon has created another masterpiece, at the same time creating something family-friendly and commercially accessible. Like Spirited Away this film is something to which you can take your children or parents. It shares the same heart that made Spirited Away such a delightful film, including great dollops of optimism and whimsy. This bodes well for its eventual release in the United States, and I can only hope it enjoys the same success.
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