Ah, Christmas time! That point in the year when all the rules of normal life are thrown out the window. We spend too much, eat too much, drink way too much. We suddenly do strange things like sing carols, put large spikey trees in our homes and, strangest of all, invite our extended family round to invade our lives for three (or more) awkward days.
It’s also that time of year when we bizarrely re-watch films that we’ve seen hundreds of times. They are often unbearably cheesy but because they’re Christmas movies, only played during one short, sweet time of the year, we just adore them.
One can never see ‘Home Alone’, ‘The Santa Clause’ or (my personal favourite) ‘The Muppets Christmas Carol’ too many times. We even watch TV Christmas Specials over and over, year after year. These films and shows are so established, so loved, that they hold a special status in our hearts and minds. They are the illustrious members of the Christmas film club, a fraternity in which poor-quality newcomers like ‘Polar Express’ are rarely accepted.
But I’m going to introduce a new holiday-season film for you, that you (probably) have not seen before and which, I hope, you will watch and accept as a rather excellent, if slightly alternative, Christmas classic.
It’s the story of three hobos (homeless people to be more P.C.) who accidentally stumble upon a baby that’s been abandoned in a rubbish heap at Christmas. They then go on a search for the baby’s mother, on the insistence of one of the characters, ‘Uncle Bag’, a cross-dressing man who longs for a child of his own. He wants to know what would compel the child’s mother to abandon her, and believes that if he finds her, confronts her and finds her reasoning acceptable, he will return her baby to her.
As the three homeless heroes, Gin (aka Geezer), Hana (aka Uncle Bag) and a teenage runaway named Miyuki go on their search, we slowly learn more about their lives and what events led them to their current state of homelessness. In their quest to find the parents of the baby they named Kiyoko, the three characters are also brought closer together and through all the adventures that they have, they seem protected by the little baby they hold in their arms.
To save from ruining the film, I won’t delve deeper into the storyline, but all you need to know is that this is a great Christmas film. It’s incredibly funny but also moving, dealing with a lot of social issues that are present in Japan (particularly homelessness and suicide) in a subtle and very accurate way. Of course, these issues are not just problems in Japan but all over the world, so it is easy to relate to the film and its themes.
The characters too are wonderfully charismatic, and their interaction often provides great laugh out loud moments. The inclusion of ‘Uncle Bag’ was particularly interesting to me as this was the first time I’ve seen a homosexual/transvestite man portrayed in a Japanese film.
As always with Kon’s films, the animation is beautiful. In this film, the depiction of Tokyo is fantastically realistic, giving a great sense of the city and its people, particularly those that you wouldn’t normally see as the stars of a film – the homeless.
Tokyo Godfathers is a wonderful story, very well told and instantly loveable. I hope that maybe this holiday you will perhaps skip out watching something awful like ‘Four Christmases’ and give this a go. It’s unlikely to be played on TV but I urge you to seek it out, and hopefully, like me, you will add it to your list of favourite Christmas films.
You can watch the film in several parts with English subs here:
Alternatively, here’s the slightly cheesy American trailer!