• Tokyo Godfathers

    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released on: September 6, 2017
    Director: Satoshi Kon
    Cast: Toru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki, Aya Okamoto
    Year: 2003
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    The Movie:

    Before he died in 2010 from pancreatic cancer, the visionary Japanese filmmaker Satoshi Kon made several highly influential animated features he imbued with imagination, humanity, wit, and a lifelong love of anime, manga, the novels of Philip K. Dick, and Terry Gilliam’s towering comic fantasies. Among Kon’s best films were the sci-fi adventure Paprika and the harrowing psychological thriller Perfect Blue (a criminally unacknowledged influence on Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar-winning 2010 film Black Swan), but one that stands out among the others is 2003’s Tokyo Godfathers.

    Based on the 1913 novel Three Godfathers by Peter Kyne that inspired a 1948 western of the same name starring John Wayne among others, Kon’s film reimagines the book as a contemporary tale of three homeless societal outcasts – alcoholic gambling addict Gin (voice of Toru Emori), transgendered former drag performer Hana (voice of Yoshiaki Umegaki), and runaway teenage girl Miyuki (voice of Aya Okamoto) – living on the streets of Tokyo who discover a crying baby abandoned in a pile of trash on Christmas Eve. Naming her Kiyoko, the trio embark on a mission to find the child’s parents that in the process will have them confronting Yakuza gangsters, dark familial secrets, and their own troubled pasts, all the while becoming emotionally attached to the little bundle of joy that has become the charge for this unlikeliest of tight-knit clans.

    Kon also co-wrote the screenplay for Tokyo Godfathers with Keiko Nobumoto (Cowboy Bebop: The Movie) and worked on the character design. Like his other films, this was quite clearly a labor of love for the young, talented director and it is unlike most animated features in that it could easily have been made in live-action possibly on a lower budget than what it ultimately cost. But in doing Godfathers as an animated feature, Kon was permitted the freedom of doing most of the work of crafting the characters, leaving only the voice actors to finish what he couldn’t. The character designs benefit from the heightened reality in which Kon immerses his heartwarming, yet frequently intense and violent tale, but he never takes the story in directions too outlandish to be believed even in world where anything is seemingly possible.

    Kon’s interest is mainly invested in exploring the backstories of his three main characters and how the decisions they made in the past has affected them in the present. He really gets us to embrace and love these flawed but deeply human individuals who remain decent people despite the choices they made in life. Each is interesting for different reasons, and even though Tokyo Godfathers runs a lean and active 92 minutes, Kon allots plenty of time in the narrative for the traits that make Gin, Hana, and Miyuki special to each other and themselves emerge and shine. Regardless of how crazy events in the story get, we never stop caring for these people and we constantly root for them to bring their darling Kiyoko back to her real parents and restore a little faith to their dark, uncaring world.

    The animation was done in the slightly exaggerated Japanese style, but it works surprisingly well for a story that doesn’t burst at the seams with energetic, stylized set-pieces. Action and movement are very fluid and convincing, wonderfully underscored by a lively soundtrack composed by rock musician Keiichi Suzuki and his band The Moonriders.


    Umbrella Entertainment’s Region B Blu-ray release of Tokyo Godfathers features a bright and crisp 1080p high-definition transfer in the film’s original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. Color timing appears accurate and there doesn’t seem to be any print damage. The quality of this picture won’t blow your mind, but it’s solid for what is hardly a visually dazzling animated feature.

    Supplementing the video is a robust Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that brings clarity to the dialogue and a pleasing amount of depth to the music and ambient effects. This is a terrific reproduction of the original Dolby Digital sound mix that impresses simply by doing its job well and without distortion or unbalanced volume levels. An English language dub was supposedly created for the film but has only been screened on rare occasions and has never been released on home video. English subtitles have also been provided.

    Bonus features begin with “Unexpected Tours” (26 minutes), a vintage making-of documentary featuring interviews with the main players and a look at how the story, characters, and animation evolved during the production. “Process of Animation: The Making of Tokyo Godfathers” (14 minutes) demonstrates how video footage of select scenes from the script were used as reference for the animation team. “Animax Featurette” (22 minutes) covers the film’s premiere at the 2003 Big Apple Anime Fest, with more cast and crew interviews. “5.1 Channel Surround and Art Gallery” (12 minutes) is a full-motion selection of artwork from the film set to soundtrack selections that concludes with an interview with music director Keichi Suzuki. All four of these featurettes are presented in Japanese with optional English subtitles. Lastly, we have two Japanese theatrical trailers (3 minutes) and a trailer for the U.S. DVD release (2 minutes).

    The Final Word:

    One of the best features ever made by a brilliant Japanese filmmaker who sadly didn’t live to make more like it, Tokyo Godfathers is a sweet little surprise of a film that fans of great comedy-dramas and entrancing animation will find compelling and unforgettable. Umbrella Entertainment’s Blu-ray release sweetens the deal with excellent A/V quality and some nice supplements.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!