Category Archives: Japanese Animated Films

Tokyo Godfathers (2003): An Amazing Tale of Love Among the Outcasts

Tokyo Godfathers

      “Tokyo Godfathers” is one of the two films I’ll be reviewing with a holiday theme related to love and family and the different forms those take. It’s a rich tale and I was glad it was requested. The animation style and the soundtrack are beautiful, and every single character who has dialogue is complicated on some level, making for a rich narrative as the story unfolds. The fact that one of the scriptwriter behind one of my favorite animes “Cowboy Bebop” was a part of this I think lended to the overall quality of the production. Keiko Nobumoto is one of the best anime writers out there.

      The film was directed by Satoshi Con who was also the one who wrote the story and was one of the writer’s of the screenplay, the other director was Shogo Furuya and the other screenplay writer was Keiko Nobumoto.

       The story revolves around three homeless people The runaway girl Miyuki, the alcoholic gambler Gin and the trans woman and former drag queen Hana. Their lives transform when they discover an abandoned baby and begin the search for it’s parents as they soon realize how connected they are to one another, the people around them and those connected to the baby. From here the story unfolds as each reveals the reason they are homeless and their scars they carry. The story itself takes place over Christmas Eve.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack has jazz as well as a french feel to it that give it a life and charm that simply adds to scenes, whether characters are running or bearing their hearts Keiichi Suzuki made a great soundtrack.

The Cinematography – The animation of this film is fantastic. Whether it is the details of faces or the brilliance of the landscape of a city, or the nitty gritty of the alleyways and dark sides of town, you feel like you are living in this place. Katsutoshi Sugai did an amazing job.

The Script – The script is gold. Everything we are told is minimum and only when needed, and the characters are three dimensional and their struggles are compelling. The animation could have been terrible but the script alone could have carried this movie. Only issue is narrative chopyness because of all the coincidences.

The Characters – The characters in this film are complex, and through their struggles we really get an idea of the theme, which I’ll get into later. Suffice to say, of the main cast ther was not a single character I didn’t like.

Gin – Gin is a liar, drunk and debtor and the one who finds redemption in caring for the lost baby and in his love for his lover Hana and the runaway Miyuki. We see his relationship with them grow, especially after he meets his biological daughter and she forgives him. It is then he learned how deeply he was loved and feels shame. You get the feeling after that he builds the relationship with her and he’s finally learned to value the relationships in life and himself after he nearly dies in the hospital. Toru Emori is great as the grizzled man who has stopped believing in himself or anything and learns to care and love again.

Miyuki – Miyuki takes the approach of someone who doesn’t care about anything. We soon see she does care though when she goes from not caring about the baby to reading books on how to care for it. The next step for her is when she opens up about hurting her father and finds acceptance and love from Hana and Gin. This leads to her later being in the place where after they save the baby, she can finally accept love from her father.  Aya Okamoto does a wonderful job in the role.

Hana – Yoshiaki Umegaki plays my favorite character in the film. She is a trans woman who left her drag bar after she attacks a man for insulting her. She later finds out her adopted mother accepts her though and saw the incident as small and is just happy she is alive. Given how fatalistic Hana is this is just what she needs to stand up to Gin and tell him the truth which leads to their relationship and love. She is the mother of the group and takes care of the baby that was left in the dumpster, that they later make their mission to get back to the parents. She is a hero but can be cruel and feel strongly about everything. This makes her compelling and her arc is learning that her life is worth living and that she doesn’t have to leave the ones she cares about behind, because they want her in their life.

The Message – The biggest message is that you are loved and that there are those who care about you. We see this when Hana visits her foster mom and her foster mom forgives her for attacking the client who had insulted her and tells her it was no big deal, in the moment when Gin’s daughter forgives him for being away and said that she just wanted to be with him again…and at the end when Miyuki’s father sees her and there is only acceptance and surprise there…as well as what all of them do to save the baby and get the baby back to it’s parents. The theme of love is strong and that we get trapped in thinking far less of ourselves than the ones who love us do and that they are there to support us if we just reach out. I loved this message as it showed hope and that as long as you are connected to others, you will find the help you need to heal.

       We also see the message of acceptance and love as Hana is never discriminated against for being a drag queen or trans and that Gin in facts loves her and she loves him. For Miyuki it was never an issue, they were the parents she chose when she lived on the street and she loves them both deeply.

The Ending – The message of acceptance and love is there at the end when the three of them are made Godfathers by the baby’s parents and in the implied reunion of Miyuki and her father. I really liked it given all the suffering it took for our characters to get there and how much they grew. They learned how to love others and in turn accepting themselves.

The Cons: Choppy Narrative – The premise of the story was a bunch of coincidences happening all at once, and it achieves that but ends up coming off as contrived at times. In many ways it distracted from the message more as side characters appear and disappear and we are given no reason to care about them. For this reason I have to put the narrative structure as a con. Way too choppy at times.

      This was a film I’d highly recommend. The story and message are timeless and powerful, we see human connections, growth and it is executed beautifully in the cinematography, writing and music.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10. Definitely a favorite film.

Fist of the North Star (1986): Heads will Explode and a Hero’s Journey

Fist of the North Star (1986)

“Fist of the North Star,” is a film based off the manga series by Buronson and drawn by Tetsuo Hara. It was made into two anime series (from 1984-1988) in the middle of which this movie came out in 1986. There is also an American live action film of the same title too. This film was directed by Toyoo Ashida.

The story takes place on Apocalyptic Earth after nuclear weapons have destroyed everything and only the strongest survive. The main drama revolves around Ken known as the Fist of the North Star. The action takes off after the introduction of the world when his fiancee Yuria is taken by his former friend Shin. Ken is left for dead and cast off a mountain by his brother Raoh who wished to take his place in being the Fist of the North Star. From here the story unfolds from there.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The idea – Post apocalyptic or apocalyptic worlds have given rise to some of the greatest stories, especially in animation…from “Evangelion,” to “Akira,” and to many others I have yet to see. This is a world of mutants and magic fist attacks with some characters larger than life. It is an excellent idea that we are given to kick things off.

The Animation – The animation is fantastic! The characters are drawn with elongated style making their bodies and faces able to express a lot. Most have large muscles too, which fits the desert landscape of where it all takes place.

The Action – The movie is amazing with it’s action. It uses animation to push the boundaries as Ken’s attacks cause people’s heads to literally explode and body parts and blood are flying in most scenes…not to mention it kicks off a person melting in an atomic blast. It keeps that level of action through the movie.

Rei – Rei is a more feminine looking Hero and one of the more interesting characters in the movie. He teams up with Ken after Ken had saved some children and a village before as he was searching for the him…it turns out the man who had kidnapped his sister was Jagi who had taken Ken’s identity. His attack is cool is he creates chi energy that allows him to cut through limbs. He takes care of the kids that Ken saves. He also stands up to Raoh to save Yuria. He sees the big picture too and begs Ken not to fight Raoh so that the children and Julia can live.

Ragi – He’s insane and you can see that Ken letting him live in the past made him worse. His head is boiling and he breathes like Darth Vader. He fights to the end against Ken which is more than be said for Shin.

Raoh – Raoh the Conqueror is great, he shows that Shin is a nobody and manages to best Rei. His goal is stability through fear and his capture of Yuria is only to bring about Ken to defeat him. He is the brother with ambition and I wish the movie had given us more time with him and his conquest. We see him take out a nameless clan easily, but he is largely out of the picture until the last 30 minutes. He also killed his, Ragi’s and Ken’s father.

The Ending – It turns out that the children, specifically Lin becomes the hope for the future. Raoh ends the fight in order for her to be protected by Ken resolving the struggle between the brothers.  I liked that Raoh realized his pride and arrogance were destroying any chance of a future. It ends with the seeds growing and life returning to the dead world. Ken also find an Oasis where he finally can be with Yuria.

Okay: Ken – He is generic hero out to save his fiance. Nothing unique here…at least his design is a little interesting. He looks like Bruce Lee and he screams when he does his super fast multi-punch. Rei is much more interesting than him though, even though he doesn’t have the personal connection to the antagonists.

Shin – He has more depth than Ken in that he tries to win Yuria’s heart after he takes her from Ken, but he doesn’t do anything. He is there purely as a personal connection and motivation for the hero. Jagi was more interesting.

The Kids – Lin and Bat are pretty one dimensional. They play their role as the soul of humanity and human ingenuity though as Bat’s car saves Rei and Ken on a few occasions and Lin is the one who stops Raoh.

Cons: The Presentation of Women – There are a few good examples of them being given agency (the little girl Lin fighting back and helping Rei’s sister Airi find a reason to live) but more often than not they are victims or damsels. Isn’t the world ending supposed to give everyone a reason to fight? This was the most annoying thing about the film.

The Intro. Music – Is way too happy and idyllic given the world that this takes place and the actions that unfold…I don’t think it was meant ironically since this film doesn’t do irony.

The Final Fight – Raoh vs. Ken went on way too long. They destroy the city in the process and just doesn’t feel rewarding at all.

This was a pretty good anime film. I wouldn’t call it great because the protagonist just isn’t that interesting and it doesn’t do anything new with the tropes it uses. Also the overuse of damsels in distress doesn’t help…though Lin stopping Raoh is perfect to at least partially counter this. If you like classic anime or Kung Fu type films you will enjoy this. It has a pretty solid Heroes Journey and some great antagonists.

My final score for this film is 8.4 / 10. Pretty good, but not great.

Princess Mononoke (1997): A Fairy Tale about Humanity and Nature

Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke

“He is life itself. He isn’t dead, San. He is here with us now, telling us, it’s time for both of us to live.”

-Prince Ashitaka “Princess Mononoke”

First, I have to admit that Hayao Miyazaki is one of my favorite directors. He tends to choose great themes for his movies that always answer the “So what?” Question as well as being beautifully animated with fully realized characters. This one is truly one of his classics for a reason. Now to go into the reasons why.

Pros – The characters are all fully realized…even those who would be viewed as Antagonists like the leader of Irontown, the Hunter or the Wolves. All of them have motivations that are realistic and are following the basic tenant of survival while dealing with their own flaws of character.

Another pro is the animation which is flawless and beautiful. It is fairy tale like in how surreal it is which plays into the narrator’s introduction which says this is a world of Gods and Demons living with man. It is a mythical place and the animation style captures it perfectly.

The story is another pro, the dialogue is real and everything that happens has consequences. There is no magic reset button and all characters who do not perish grow from the events they experienced. It also turns a romance trope of the main protagonists must hook up on it’s head. It shows that you can be of opposite genders, be attracted to one another and still remain friends without it becoming romantic. The message the story tells is also one that is still real today. If we destroy the Earth we will destroy ourselves. We need it to live and without it we will be destroyed.

Okay – The soundtrack. I thought “Spirited Away” and “Porco Rosso” (the other Miyazaki films I’ve watched, had better soundtracks. The soundtrack worked, it just wasn’t memorable, which is why it is in the okay area.

Con – The story actually. The movie starts out pretty slow and I found myself wishing Miyazaki had made this a mini-series. There are so many different characters and factions that even though they were explored as well as they could be with the time restraints of a film, were not explored enough. I wanted to see more of the politics of Irontown vs The Emperor and the how the factions of spirits interacted with one another and the relationship between forests and Mononoke’s adopted family vs biological family, and what about the Prince’s village…they were destroyed by the Emperor in the past but survived? Tell me more. This is the only con I really found since both the Prince and Princess save one another throughout the film. It isn’t sexist and treats all the characters with respect.

I would highly recommend this film. I give a 8.75 / 10. Not my favorite Miyazaki film, but definitely one of my favorite films after today.