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Tokyo Godfathers Anime DVD Review

8 min read

Tokyo Godfathers CoverSome stories transcend so many things.

What They Say:
It’s Christmas Eve in Tokyo. Three homeless people – alcoholic Gin, drag queen Hana, and teenage runaway Miyuki – discover an abandoned baby in a pile of garbage. Rather than turn the infant over to the police, the trio decides instead to find the baby’s parents themselves.

Following the only clue they have, a locker key, the three godfathers embark on a surprising journey of danger, humor, and excitement. And in the process, they revisit their own haunted pasts and learn to face their future.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release is somewhat unfortunate as the only language track available is the original Japanese track, done in 5.1, as no English language dub was ever produced for it. The 5.1 mix here is very solid though it only really kicks in during a number of specific scenes. When the music really gets going and it’s interacting with the characters, the real channels get some great directionality to them as well as with some of the ambient sound effects, such as the baby crying or other noises that sneak in. Dialogue is very much based in the forward soundstage with little going to the rear channels but it’s nicely expansive and fills the area well, especially since the lead three characters are often talking at the same time.

Originally released in theaters in 2003, Tokyo Godfathers is presented here in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio with the anamorphic print struck from a high definition master print. Much like Kon’s other films, there is such a huge push on the realism of the material with areas like the backgrounds being practically photorealistic (I’m unsure of the exact technique used here) that this print is simply stunning. The amount of detail is just gorgeous throughout when you get the time to soak it in. With much of it taking place at night, the layering of the colors and lighting from things such as street lamps or the lighted caution cones throughout add such a great feel to things. The colors are generally dark and murky by design and contrasted with the whites from the lights surrounding them, so there’s lots of shadows mixed in. This transfer is just beautiful to watch from beginning to end. My only disappointment was the lack of a full set of translated credits at the end of the film print itself.

This film had a lot of promotional posters created for it and we get one of the better shots here with the trio and the baby standing front of a long shot of the Tokyo Tower as the snow falls on them. It’s a great image with its varying colors and the way it mixes the real picture with the animation. The back cover has a small series of shots from the show and a bigger piece of the trio themselves. The summary is pretty simple with only one small paragraph after listing some of the credits of people involved in the production. The discs features and production information is all clearly listed as CTS continues to use their version of the technical grid along the bottom. The insert has what looks to be a review from Variety by Ken Eisner of the film while the reverse side is advertisements. Also included is a character sketch that Kon created for the US DVD release.

Unfortunately, the only extra included here is a twenty-two minute behind the scenes feature which was produced in Japan but with good chunks of it taking place in New York City during the premiere at the Big Apple Anime Fest, which included a number of the people involved in the production. It goes back to Japan as well and meets with Kon prior to the release of the film and goes over various thoughts and concerns of his. It’s a typically produced piece so there’s some amusing bits in how they get their ideas across and it has that kind of energy to behind the scenes pieces that it seems like only anime pieces can really get.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As time went on what seems like a lifetime ago, each new release by Satoshi Kon was something that further made me a stronger fan of his work. While some directors have their misfires, there’s little that I find to really take issue with when it comes to what he produced. Whereas he could have fallen into the trap of only doing things similar to Perfect Blue, which got him larger recognition particularly in the US, he managed to do something decidedly different with each of his releases. Following Perfect Blue up with Millennium Actress was the best thing he could have done and it allowed him to shift into something as fun, engaging and socially relevant as Tokyo Godfathers.

The premise of the film is very simple. On Christmas Eve, we’re introduced to three homeless people who look out for each other. Gin’s the elder male there, sort of the father of the family. His sad tale about his dead wife and daughter that led him to being homeless has given him respect among the people around him but he’s also known for his fierce loyalty to them. Filling in the mother role is Hana, a cross dressing homosexual male who looks like the closest thing to a Monty Python character in drag in anime that I’ve ever seen. Of course, he’s got his own tale of woe about what led him to the streets from when he used to perform as a diva in a local club. Filling out the family is the high school aged runaway girl Miyuki. She’s the type who continually claims she can go back home if she wants to, but as Gin notes, those who say that are the ones that never actually do it. It’s an interesting little group that’s come together over time and while they fight constantly, you can easily see the real love and connection between all three of them.

Hana’s stashed away some books to give to Miyuki for her Christmas present, so while the three of them are looking for them in the trash area where he left them, their lives change when they hear a crying baby from underneath the piles. Tucked away in there under the rubbish but fairly well protected is a very cute little baby girl, complete with some keys leading to a locker elsewhere. Hana instantly goes into mother mode and starts taking care of the baby against Gin and Miyuki’s protestations. Gin’s ready to take the baby, which Hana quickly named Kiyoko, to the police and be done with it. But as things happen, he ends up humoring him since he says they’ll take her to the police first thing in the morning. Gin’s not terribly pleased by it but he accedes to Hana’s insistence over it.

Of course, Hana and baby Kiyoko are gone the next morning and they’re off trying to find them so they can go to the police. Hana’s got it in his head that he wants to see who it is that gave up this baby and find out why and then he’ll give her back. From this, over the course of the next few days, the trio ends up all over the city as they go from location to location trying to find the parents and dealing with everything that comes up along the way. There’re a lot of really amusing coincidences that play out as it goes along and a lot of things that seemingly happen due to a larger purpose, things that Hana indicates are miracles created by Kiyoko. As the trio continue on their journey, it seems like Kiyoko is continually bringing them good luck ? as well as herself. While rifling through the offerings at one cemetery, there’s the grave of a young child there where the parents left diapers and milk of all things as an offering. Lucky Kiyoko indeed!

With Tokyo Godfathers, the journey is obviously the bulk of the show as we watch them go through everything in trying to get Kiyoko back home. And along the way, we learn a lot about the trio and what pushed them to being out on the streets and why they continue to be there after all this time. And like an onion, there are layers upon layers to the stories that they tell each other, and the nuggets of truth are eventually reached. The interaction between the trio is beautiful and wonderfully animated. The expressiveness of Hana’s voice and face is a delight in and of itself, especially when he gets on a real rant over Gin about something. I also really liked the way they showed how Miyuki had changed from her comfortable life to the one she’s now chosen to live.

A lot of what the show is based around is the pure-luck and coincidence factor. Having the characters continually running into people who can only forward their goals isn’t the best way to tell a tale, but it works incredibly well here in giving it just the right kind of feel. Since it’s playing almost like a Christmas Miracle kind of movie that lets it get away with what some may consider a cheating way to tell a story. One or two coincidences are easily gotten away with, but Tokyo Godfathers really pushes on the number of them. I feel like I want to fault it for doing that, but it does it so well and with just the right kind of disbelief and look about it when it does happen that it’s quite easy to forgive and forget.

In Summary:
Tokyo Godfathers is one of those titles that should be in every anime fan’s library as something to love and savor themselves but also to be that title that you give to friends and family to check out. It really doesn’t require any kind of knowledge of Japan, culturalisms or the basics of anime storytelling, so you don’t need to explain honorifics or anything like that since they’re almost absent here on the street level of the films environment. Kon’s style and wit really shine through here after seeing how he tried to bring it to the fore in Millennium Actress while still adding in plenty of serious dramatic moments. Tokyo Godfathers is just one more of the jewels in the anime crown and another one in my collection, one I keep hoping for a high definition release of, that’s definitely worth keeping close at hand.

Japanese 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Portuguese Subtitles, Animax Making-of-featurette

Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade:
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: April 13th, 2004
MSRP: $26.96
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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