Thursday, March 09, 2006

There are many images that come to mind for the typical Canadian when the word Japan is heard. Homeless people isn't one of them. In reality like any other country Japan has its share of homeless, many of them victims of the collapse of the so-called "bubble economy" at the start of the 1990s. Its 3 such homeless people who are heroes of the anime Tokyo Godfathers.

Drunken gambler Gin, transvestite Hana, and teen runaway Miyuki are part of Tokyo's homeless population. Living together in a small cardboard hovel they comprise a sort of ersatz family, making up for the real families they have lost, or in Hana's case never had. After attending a Christmas Eve pageant/evangelical meeting Hana makes a wish for a Christmas miracle, perhaps the baby "she" knows she can never have. Much to their surprise the trio soon comes across an abandoned baby. Naming the little girl Kiyoko they soon set off on a journey across Tokyo, hoping the scant clues they've uncovered will lead them to the child's mother.

Tokyo Godfathers is a wonderful movie. The story revolves around chance, coincidence, and happenstance, and the movie gleefully shoves it in our face. For example when the trio stumbles across a Yakuza boss pinned under his car in the snow they rescue him, and this rescue leads to them attending the wedding of his daughter. The groom? The man who Gin lost so much money to gambling, resulting in his eventual slide on to the streets. What in many movies is often a sign of bad writing in this movie is an amusing part of the whole experience. Another clever idea used in this film concerns a Spanish speaking character who doesn't speak Japanese. Instead of showing the viewer via subtitles what she is saying her lines are left untranslated, and we're made to get the gist of what she's saying by her actions. This was an element of the film in its original Japanese release, and its left intact in the subtitled English language release.

The movie doesn't ignore the problems of being a street person. One sequence features Gin comforting an old man who is just about to die, preventing him from dieing alone. Unfortunately this results in him being assaulted by a group of college students just because he is homeless. We see other reactions, such as those who are still willing to treat them as human beings worthy of respect, or who are willing to behave with stereotypical Japanese politeness even to the lowest of the low. The story also puts forth the idea in several places that many Japanese aren't all that far from ending up just like our heroes, that anyone could be just a few steps away from losing everything, or even of losing their lives, no matter how well off or innocent they may be.

If you're looking for giant robots, superhuman warriors, and jailbait girls with sex kitten personalities and triple D breasts look elsewhere. This isn't that kind of anime. (The two times we see bare breasts they're being used for their primary design purpose, feeding a baby.) Rather Tokyo Godfathers is the perfect film to show if you want to demonstrate to someone that Japanese animators produce more that those shows with the weird looking characters with the big eyes and funny hair the kids watch.

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