While perhaps more well-known for his psychological, often mind-bending works like Perfect Blue, Paprika, and Paranoia Agent, Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers remains one of his finest films and is arguably the best Christmas movie ever made by anyone for its unconventional cast and storytelling. While you can make your own judgment on that, today we’re going to explore how Tokyo Godfathers expresses Christmas and how it relates to society in a Japanese context. Without further ado, let’s get going~!
Three Kings and Christain Allegory
What stands out foremost in Tokyo Godfathers is the cast which consists of three homeless people with troubled pasts who find a newborn baby while rummaging through the trash. Gin, a grumpy middle-aged alcoholic gambler, Miyuki, a bitter teenage runaway estranged from her family, and Hana, an ex-drag queen trans woman struggling with health issues who ends up naming the baby Kiyoko or ‘pure child’. The trio becomes analogous to both the three kings and Mary and Joseph of the Christ story as they search together for the baby’s biological mother, forming a makeshift family in the process.
There are more parallels than you might expect but the most notable are having three individuals who witness a miracle and must travel far to find an answer, new ‘parents’ without a home to protect their child, and the newborn child being a symbol of innocence, hope, and redemption. Connecting to that on a more fundamental level, a core tenet of Christianity is the belief in redemption that often focuses on the poor and downtrodden. Kon does exactly this with his depiction of these homeless characters as multifaceted and complex individuals who do end up redeeming themselves because they feel compelled to help the innocent Kiyoko.
Tokyo Godfathers and Japanese Christmas
Without going into extensive detail, one of the core differences between Christmas in Japan versus places like America is that is is more of a romantic holiday for couples than a family event in Japan. While romance is not the focus of Tokyo Godfathers, it is an important background element, particularly for Hana who is revealed to have lost her partner Ken, who she still keeps a photo of.
In general, though, Tokyo Godfathers is perhaps more notable for largely not being about the heavily commercialized, romantic image of Christmas in modern Japan but focusing instead on unconventional “families” and marginalized groups that are largely ignored in mainstream media. If anything, the film is something of a critique of traditional families despite its rather conservative ending that has the heroes mostly returning to their own.
Tokyo Godfathers is a film driven by surprising coincidences, or perhaps more appropriately called miracles, that ultimately lead people to redemption. This belief in miracles is what most fundamentally ties the film together so perfectly to Christmas, specifically the belief that this belongs to everyone. As a whole, Tokyo Godfathers is a refreshing Christmas story that expresses a nuanced take on miracles, modern society, and arguably Christian morality within a Japanese context. It also showcases the humanity and heroism of severely underrepresented and disadvantaged groups that are not often given as much agency as seen here.
In any case, we think Tokyo Godfathers is an excellent choice if you’re looking for an interesting Christmas movie! Let us know your own thoughts in the comments section below and be sure to stick around Ho-Ho-Honey’s for more awesome wintry anime content and more! Until next time, see ya~!