• Tokyo Godfathers (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: June 2nd, 2020.
    Director: Satoshi Kon
    Cast: Toru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki, Aya Okamoto
    Year: 2003
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    Tokyo Godfathers – Movie Review:

    By Robert Morgan

    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.

    Tokyo Godfathers – Blu-ray Review:

    By Ian Jane and Robert Morgan

    Tokyo Godfathers arrives on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory on a 50GB disc with the feature taking up just under 29GBs of space. Presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 2.35.1 widescreen and taken from a new 4k restoration, the picture quality here is very strong. Colors look gorgeous and there’s as much detail here as the original animation will allow for, which is quite a bit! Black levels are nice and deep and there are no noticeable problems at all with any nose reduction or edge enhancement, though you might spot a few minor compression artifacts now and then. The picture is free of any noticeable print damage, dirt or debris – it looks fantastic.

    English and Japanese language options are provided in 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio options. Subtitles are provided in English and Spanish for the Japanese version and English SDH for the English version. Both tracks sound really good here, with plenty of impressive surround usage and lots of rear channel activity to keep things interesting. The score sounds deep and rich, lots of depth to it, while the dialogue remains crystal clear.

    The disc’s extras open with two-minute introduction by K.F. Watanabe, Deputy Director of Film for the Japan Society, New York City, which discusses the film’s emphasis on realism, traditional narrative structure and humanism.

    Shout! Also includes an interview with actress Shakina Nayfack who talks for eight-minutes about how the film deals with a homeless trans woman, the sensitivity of the character, interesting character traits, her favorite scene, her thoughts on the ending of the movie, how challenging it was to do the English language voice acting on the film and how as a trans person it was important to her to bring an actual trans voice to the character.

    Ohayo, a short film by Satoshi Kon, is a one-minute piece where a girl wakes up and we see her spirit and physical body do different things as she gets ready for the day. A four-minute making of piece details what went into this project and includes interviews with Satoshi Kon about the limitations and challenges of making the short. We also see some of his storyboards and get a feel for the pre-production work required for this piece.

    An archival Making Of Tokyo Godfathers featurette, running twenty-two-minutes, is a bit of an EPK/hype piece but it’s interesting enough. It covers how the film deals with homelessness and gives a fairly detailed plot synopsis before then introducing us to some of the voice actors who worked on the film and offering up some cast and crew interviews, some of which feature the Eiffel Tower in the background. There’s also some discussion of the animation and the music used in the film. Mixing For Surround Sound interviews Keiichi Suzuki about working with the director, the music used in the film, how it was specifically mixed, the tone of the different sounds used in the film and more.

    Also included is the twenty-six-minute Unexpected Tours, 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. The fourteen-minute Process Of Animation: The Making Of Tokyo Godfathers) demonstrates how video footage of select scenes from the script were used as reference for the animation team.

    Rounding out the extras is an Art Gallery (a five-minute still gallery), a U.S trailer for the Japanese dubbed version, a U.S trailer for the English dubbed version,, menus and chapter selection. Shout! Factory packages this release with a reversible cover sleeve and a slipcover.

    Tokyo Godfathers – 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. Shout! Factory has done an excellent job bringing the movie to Blu-ray in North America with a very impressive presentation and a nice selection of extra features.

    Click on the images below for full-sized Tokyo Godfathers screen caps!