Three homeless street wanderers – a former deadbeat dad, a gruff-voiced transgendered “woman”, and a runaway teenager – come across a crying baby in a dumpster. They argue over what do with it at first, but eventually settle on tracking down the parents who abandoned her. They set off on a path littered with unexpected detours and coincidences that alternately bring them close to danger and confront them with their pasts. Tokyo Godfathers delivers a heartwarming, sentimental and familiar story about the value of family, only covered with a gritty surface which takes our characters through a harsh side of Tokyo. They find themselves in drag bars, kidnapped by shady criminal elements, beaten up by street thugs – in other words, Tokyo Godfathers isn’t exactly a family show. Yet the fundamental message in this film is a warm one, and its juxtaposition with this oddball cast and the environments they find themselves is effective.
And what a cast. If you’re tired of repetitive leads in anime, well, Tokyo Godfathers is going to be a breath of fresh air. They’re certainly not the kind of people you like on description alone, but as they go through the story and we learn more about them, we can’t help but sympathize with them and this odd pseudo-family that they seem to become. In one scene, the three sit down holding the baby while passerbys stare at the strange sight. It’s almost a shock to the viewers, who’ve already become invested in their story, to remember that to anyone else, these trio of urban drifters really do make quite a strange sight.
The story moves at a very brisk pace and has plenty of large coincidences littered along with dramatic moments. What keeps these in check is the sense of humour the director has, using it as a balance to keep sentimentality from becoming overwrought and keeping the film down-to-earth. He also never allows the film to be too preachy. It would be easy to portray the homeless characters as saints who only through misfortune were reduced to their current state. Instead, he allows them to be flawed people who dug themselves into their own hole through their own actions, yet are not a lost cause.
The technical side of things yields no complaint. The animation is pleasant and the muted portrayal of a Tokyo night is believable and impressive. The soundtrack is not entirely memorable, but serves its purpose quite well. The voice acting is exceptional, allowing the weirdness of these characters to shine while giving them heart.
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