Tokyo Godfather – A Beautiful, Underappreciated Anime Christmas

AbraxasDecember 17, 2021

When you think of Christmas movies, anime probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, but what if I told you that there’s an anime Christmas movie by one of anime’s greatest directors and greatest screenwriters? Today, in the spirit of the season and to celebrate the life of the recently passed Keiko Nobumoto, we’ll be taking a look at the side-splitting and heartwarming Christmas classic that is Tokyo Godfathers.

The premise for the film is pretty simple. Our story centers on three homeless residents of Tokyo: Gin, an alcoholic; Hana, a trans woman; and Miyuki, a teenage runaway. The three of them happen to find a baby in the trash on Christmas Eve and, after brief deliberation, endeavor to find the baby’s mother. Along the way they encounter different clues leading them to their destination, as well as a series of bizarre interactions with other people across the city. It’s a bit of a far cry from the previous works of this film’s writers in terms of premise with it being fairly grounded in reality, and this slant towards realism works well as an attempt to more urgently convey the realities that homeless people face, as well as to more directly humanize an often stigmatized population. Life is rough for these characters. There’s little to no romanticization of their plight, and it showcases both the physical and emotional cost that this lifestyle eventually results in, giving it a much stronger bend towards reality, though it does manage to keep the mood from turning completely dour with some well-placed physical comedy and wordplay.

That said, Tokyo Godfathers does have its own version of what one might consider fantastical elements, that being the power of coincidence. From a broader view of the plot outline, it’s a bit shocking just how much of this story is based on seemingly random coincidences. Our three leads save someone trapped under his own car who just so happens to be the boss of the man who Gin took out loans from. Gin gets beat up by a group of punks and just so happens to be found by an employee of the bar that Hana used to work at. The hospital they bring Hana to after she collapses just so happens to be where Gin’s daughter works. The bulk of the film’s plot is built on a string of coincidences that, in a lesser film, would feel like a cop-out or deus ex.

And yet, these moments feel right at home here because they’re all rooted in the connections that the characters have formed with other people. These coincidences aren’t solely a means of pushing the plot forward, but rather a reflection of the lives that these characters have lived, both the good and the bad, almost as though their pasts and the people they’ve left behind over the years are finally catching up to them, and the way that each character reacts to these coincidences perfectly capture their mindsets towards said pasts. Gin lashes out at the man he borrowed money from because that loan ruined his life. Hana accepts her reunion with her foster parent with a huge heaping of emotion. Miyuki runs away almost immediately upon seeing her father. All of it works towards crafting more intriguing and empathetic characters and a more fleshed-out web of relationships amongst all of them.

All these coincidental meetups and encounters are structured beautifully in a way that highlights one of this film’s central motifs: family, a theme that you can probably find in the majority of Christmas movies you’ve come across, and in Tokyo Godfathers, it serves as a motivator for just about every action in the film. Each of our leads has some family-related issue that they struggle with, or, more accurately, an issue with their lack of family, as each of them has become disconnected from their families by the start of the film. Gin abandoned his wife and daughter in order to escape his debts and lies about his past so as not to face his own reality. Hana was abandoned by her birth mother and raised by someone else, whom she eventually left as well out of shame for her own actions as an adult. Miyuki stabs her father in a fit of rage and runs away. All three of them are living with some kind of family-related trauma that they have to work through as the film progresses, eventually bringing them closer to those whom they left behind.

And yet, despite the broken pasts that they come from, these characters decide to stick together and help each other out as they try to survive on the streets. They’ve developed a real sense of camaraderie with each other in a way that somehow reflects that of the typical nuclear family, even though none of them are related by blood. There are two scenes near the beginning of the film that I feel illustrate this perfectly. Shortly before finding the baby, Hana laments that she lost track of a book series she was going to give to Miyuki for Christmas. When Miyuki’s inner teenager surfaces to reject this gift, Gin tells her that Hana worked really hard to find those books, almost like a father chastising his child for rejecting her mother’s love.

The second scene comes after Miyuki is sent out to get water for the baby. As she runs head-first into some other homeless people, they try to get away from her as quickly as possible out of fear of Gin’s wrath, as, according to them, Miyuki is his “spoiled princess,” portraying Gin as a doting and overprotective father despite how we’ve seen him interact with Miyuki thus far. Whether they directly say it to each other or not, these three see each other as family. Even when they fight like cats and dogs or when they feel so utterly defeated that they can’t move forward, they still find a way to come together in the end to support each other.

What I find most interesting, however, is that the film never argues for one type of family over the other. By the end of the film, all three of them have reunited with their original families and seem to have at least started the process of mending their relationships. Yet, at the same time, the bond between the three of them is also at its strongest at the end, making it hard to believe that they’ll just disappear from each other’s lives, and so the film’s position seems to be that any type of family is just as valid as the next, be it by blood or by choice. Whatever connections you make in life are ones that you should cherish and make an effort to mend when things go awry if they’re with people who genuinely care about you.
Tokyo Godfathers is a truly marvelous film. From excellent comedic timing to phenomenal character animation to pitch-perfect execution of raw emotion, it serves as a fantastic encapsulation of the joy and thankfulness and spiritual generosity that we celebrate at this time of year. It presents an unfiltered and truly broken series of family issues, yet still manages to come out hopeful and uplifting. A perfect holiday viewing full of imperfect characters written with such empathy and care that you can’t help but love them.

Thanks to all of you for watching. If you enjoyed this video, be sure to like and subscribe and follow Anime News Network on Twitter for more great anime content, and if you wanna see more from me you can check me out at Ember Reviews on YouTube and Twitter.

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