Satoshi Kon’s Endearing Christmas Tale

Three homeless people form a surrogate family living on the streets in Satoshi Kon’s heartfelt and genuine Tokyo Godfathers. Set on the fringes of polite society in Tokyo, they discover a baby on Christmas Eve abandoned in a garbage dump. Loosely inspired by the John Ford western 3 Godfathers, marginalized members of Japanese society receive warm and compelling treatment.

Coming off the haunting Perfect Blue and invigorating Millennium Actress, Satoshi Kon moves in an entirely different direction for his third film. Considered one of the few true auteurs in anime, his movies are always interesting. They approach their subjects with an unassuming intelligence and careful construction.

The Japanese filmmaker’s humane touch combines humor, social commentary and sincere storytelling in Tokyo Godfathers. Brushing aside more fantastical trappings commonly found in the genre, the anime movie may be Kon’s most conventional and straightforward drama.

Moving beyond the boundaries of regular anime themes, Tokyo Godfathers is a triumph

What separates Tokyo Godfathers are its three primary protagonists living on the edge. Forgotten by the world around them, three homeless bond over their failed pasts while trying to share something important. There is Gin, an alcoholic that once had a wife and child. Hana is the instigator, trans woman and former night club performer. The youngest is Miyuki, a teenage runaway that has been living on the streets for months.

The trio comprise an odd family unit with Gin as the grumpy father figure and Hana filling in for the mother role. When the group discovers an abandoned baby in the dump, Hana talks them into keeping it. Weird, wild misadventures befall the rag-tag family as they look for the baby’s parents. As they search for the baby’s history, they learn a little something about themselves confronting their own issues.

Tokyo Godfathers is a humanistic portrait of its three characters living flawed lives, celebrating their failures with a hopeful eye on the future. Its mix of pathos and melodrama is warm, funny and inviting. The deeply etched characters are developed with sufficient enough care they avoid becoming trite caricatures.

Satoshi Kon always makes a movie worth watching, engaging on multiple dramatic and thematic levels. Tokyo Godfathers may not stretch and test the limits of animation as a medium. What the heartwarming movie does is provide a lovely tale of hope from three unlikely souls. Moving beyond the boundaries of regular anime themes, Tokyo Godfathers is a triumph.

Video

GKIDS uses a newly remastered 4K film transfer for Tokyo Godfathers, providing an authentically pleasing presentation in 1080P video. The digitally composited animation was first printed to 35mm film when first released and that film source is likely what got scanned in 4K resolution. The whereabouts of the original animation files are unknown. Tokyo Godfathers looks as good here as it can possibly look, though its darker palette consisting of earth-tones and muted hues isn’t your regular animated wonder.

Animated by anime juggernaut Madhouse, fluidly rendered character designs and expressive faces make for more realistic visuals. The AVC encode by Shout Factory is superlative, finely replicating the unfiltered grain without artifacts. The cinematic feel of Tokyo Godfathers is preserved without error. There’s been an effort to avoid serious video processing, leaving the intricate animation intact.

The new transfer is framed at the movie’s proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It drastically outperforms earlier Blu-ray editions from Umbrella and other companies found in Region B.

Audio

Sounds of the city provide active elements for the adequate and dense surround mix. You can hear the train create a real sense of space across the soundstage. Heard in 5.1 DTS-HD MA in both languages, the dialogue-driven movie isn’t a sonic wonder. Dialogue is anchored to the center channel, while music and sound effects are spread out. Cleanly intelligible dialogue is delivered in perfect clarity with ample dynamic range. Tokyo Godfathers is a little soft on the bottom end, underscoring the more conventional nature of its drama.

Both the original Japanese soundtrack and the new English dub match up without a hitch. This is a case in which hearing the English dub is perfectly fine without feeling guilty. The English voice actors for Gin, Hana and Miyuki provide the necessary emotional delivery needed for the roles.

Optional English, English SDH and Spanish subtitles play in a white font. The English subs translate the Japanese dialogue, while the English SDH subs are intended for the new English dub.

Extras

GKIDS and Shout Factory continue their winning ways with Satoshi Kon’s movies. This new Blu-ray and DVD combo edition picks up all the special features found on Sony’s special edition from the UK. It comes with a glossy slipcover on first pressings. The Blu-ray is coded for Region A.

This is a well-rounded mix of mostly vintage featurettes that delves into the movie with Satoshi Kon and the animators from Madhouse. Animation lovers will be interested in seeing how animators filmed themselves running as a model for the characters. Most special features are in Japanese with English subtitles.

Introduction By K.F. Watanabe (02:06 in HD)

Making of Tokyo Godfathers (22:10 in HD)

Process of Animation: The Making of Tokyo Godfathers (14:02 in HD)

Unexpected Tours: Behind The Scenes Featurette (25:57 in SD)

Art Gallery (04:59 in SD)

Mixing For Surround Sound (06:45 in SD)

An Introduction With Shakina Nayfock (07:57 in HD) – The English voice actor for Hana discusses the character’s strengths and why the role is so important to the LGBT community.

Ohayo (01:09 in HD) – A curious short film by Satoshi Kon.

Making of Ohayo featurette (04:07 in HD)

Tokyo Godfathers Trailers (02:14 in HD) – Two trailers for the anime movie.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Tokyo Godfathers
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Satoshi Kon’s affecting and inviting portrait of three homeless is a humanistic triumph, moving beyond regular anime conventions.

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