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With: Toru Emori, Aya Okamoto, Yoshiaki Umegaki
Written by: Satoshi Kon, Keiko Nobumoto
Directed by: Satoshi Kon
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, violent images, language and some sexual material
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Running Time: 93
Date: 08/30/2003

Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Street Christmas

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Satoshi Kon last year moved anime in a new direction with his amazing Millennium Actress. Telling the story of an aging movie star, he avoided the usual post-apocalyptic anime clich├ęs and invented a whole slew of new ones. Unfortunately, some clunky artwork kept the film from truly succeeding.

Now Satoshi has made up for that shortcoming with his beautiful and touching new Tokyo Godfathers. Based on an old story by Peter B. Kyne, this material has been made into at least half a dozen Hollywood films, including several during the silent era, and most notably John Ford's 1948 film 3 Godfathers.

The story takes place on Christmas Eve as three bandits find a baby and attempt to return her to her mother.

Instead of cowboys, the "godfathers" are now three homeless people who form a kind of twisted nuclear family. The alcoholic ex-bicycle racer Gin is the father, drag queen Hana is the mother, and young twenty-something runaway Miyuki is the child. Together they travel all over Tokyo looking for help and clues.

During their journey fate lends a hand, turning the story almost supernatural. Each of the three drifters re-discovers some element of their own lost families, while fate decides coin tosses, gets them out of the way of danger and leads them to safety.

In turn, Satoshi paints this animated Tokyo in a lovely, muted light, again forgoing the typical harsh, dark look of most anime. In this gentle film the snow-covered settings reveal as much personality as the faces of our three main characters.

Despite the story's inherent sentimentality, Satoshi balances everything splendidly, occasionally guiding the mush into humor, or fantasy, or noirish realism. He even avoids preachy treatises on homelessness. Indeed, he does it perhaps better than even Ford was capable of. The end result is emotionally involving without being revolting.

Still, Tokyo Godfathers has perhaps the highest snot count of any movie I can remember. Hana cries at the drop of a hat, as do several other characters, and their noses run like the Danube.

In the grand tradition of It's a Wonderful Life, Satoshi's Tokyo Godfathers makes a lovely Christmas film. You might get a little weepy, but you won't feel too bad about it in the morning.

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