Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Review: Tokyo Godfathers

Release date: November 8, 2003 (Theatrical Restoration March 9, 2020; Digital Re-release May 19, 2020)
Running time: 93 minutes
Starring: Tôru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki, Aya Okamoto 

Tokyo Godfathers is an animated feature where three homeless people with very different backgrounds have their lives changed forever when they discover a baby at a garbage dump on Christmas Eve.  The unconventional family then start a journey to reunite this baby with her parents, but have to try to manage with limited resources and the societal bias against homeless people.  Along the way, encounters with seemingly unrelated events and people force them to confront their own haunted pasts and look into what it means to be a family.

It is actually very surprising to think that Tokyo Godfathers came out in 2003.  The restoration did an amazing job breathing new life into this feature with modern techniques.  The animation is hand-drawn, probably one of the last major hand drawn films, but the restoration makes the animation look crisp and beautiful.  It shows a little age, but nothing that would be distracting.  Some technology that would be common place today is missing from the film, but the subject matter of this film makes not having access to technology seem completely normal.  The unconventional family also shows that Tokyo Godfathers was way ahead of its time.  Tackling the subject of family and homelessness, with a transgender protagonist is something that would seem normal today but must have been outlandish in 2003.  It is a testament to this film that nothing about this topic seems dated; again it feels like it could have been a movie made now.

Tokyo Godfathers is a classic, with a story that holds up to the modern times.  It has a complicated and convoluted plot, but that just keeps you on your toes and makes you want to keep following.  Sure, some things happen a little too conveniently, but they are all in service of moving the story along.  It has an interesting family unit that is comprised of individuals with very different backgrounds and no blood relation, but that come together as a family regardless.  And it has some really wonderful music by Keiichi Suzuki that does a great job of setting the scene.  There really isn't much that has to be said about this film; it is an absolute classic and the restoration has done a wonderful job to breath new life into it.  

UPDATE: I also went ahead and watched the dubbed version of the film.  The dub is very well done and able to convey a lot of the same heart that the original Japanese audio and subtitles provide.  The dub has a similar feel and a lot of the same humor.  A lot of the charm in this film is the relationship between the unconventional family, and the love that these three have for each other is just as evident in the dub as in the sub.  The voice actors (Gin - Jon Avner, Miyuki - Victoria Grace, Hana - Shakina Nayfack) are all convincing as these characters and maintain the same tone and mannerisms.  Although I still prefer the Japanese audio and subtitles, you will not be missing much if you decide to go with the new dub. 

Tokyo Godfathers is a beautifully animated classic that has been fully restored for a modern release.  However, it is a testament to this film being ahead of its time that its unconventional main characters, engaging story, and subject matter feel completely at home in modern times. 

Watch it.
For additional information about the film and to rent / buy it, check it out here.

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