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.

Gargoyles Pilot – Season 1, Episodes 1-5 – “Awakening” – A Matter of Trust

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“Gargoyles” was a show that I loved when I watched it in College, at least the first 2 seasons. I couldn’t get through season 3 because of the animation but may try again later. For this though, I’m going to be reviewing Season 1 and starting with the 5 Part Pilot of “Awakening.” Suffice to say I was impressed.

Part of the reason I loved this show were all the guest stars from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” that really got a chance to shine. Folks from one of my favorite sci. fi. shows in one of my favorite fantasy shows. It was a win win.

The story was written by Eric Luke and Michael Reaves and directed by Kazuo Terada and Saburo Hashimoto.

The story of “Gargoyles” begins in the past in Scotland. Gargoyles lead by Goliath protect the Scots from viking attacks, but one day they are betrayed by a man they consider a friend which leads to the vikings exterminating most of the gargoyles and enslaving the Scots. When the survivors free the Scots the Princess goes missing and they are blamed and turned to stone until the castle is above the skies. Goliath decides to join them and 1000 years pass and they brought to the present by Xanatos who puts their castle on top of his building. The story than unfolds as they deal with trusting humans, a reveal from the past and Goliath’s budding relationship with Detective Maza.

Demona

Here is the assessment of the episodes:

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is fantastic! Who would have thought making gargoyles living creatures who experience prejudice in all time periods would work so well. Them being outsiders and outside of time is part of what makes it so strong as they adapt to the future and finding their way. Having magic in this world works too by the very existence of the gargoyles on the scene. It establishes the fantastic early.

The Gargoyles – They can glide, live in clans and turn into stone by the light of the sun. They are powerful but have limitations which make them so amazing! They also have reason to distrust humans which makes for an interesting drama from the get go.

The characters: Goliath – The leader and first named of the gargoyles since the Gargoyles don’t have names except the ones humans give them, and Goliath was named so because of how large he was, and the fear related to him. He is a great character who is moral and fights for his people. He does not believe in killing and only does revenge as a last resort, because of his experience with the Princess and her Sorceress realizing they were wrong, he is able to trust again in the future.

Demona – Marina Sirtis from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is Goliath’s mate and takes the name because of how she hates being betrayed time and again by humans. She is the Magneto to Goliath’s Xavier and you can see where she’s coming from. The only thing I hated was when she targets the Gargoyles when they don’t stay loyal to Xanatos, this struck me as out of character…since she is the one trying to protect them in the long term. That was why she made the deal with the captain in the hopes that Goliath would take all the gargoyles to go and hunt down the Vikings.

Detective Maza – She is the one who shows Goliath that not all people are bad and risks her life countless times for him. She is an awesome protagonist and the main human perspective we get outside of Xanatos. She is the anti-Xanatos as she sees beyond herself and truly cares about the gargoyles. Salli Richardson does a good job.

E&Gargs

The Support Characters – Brooklyn (the beaked gargoyle), Hudson (the oldest and the mentor), Lexington (the techie), Broadway (the biggest one) and Bronx (the dog) are all amazing. You see why they care as they experienced kindness from a child and you see why they are the ones who survived, they were the outcasts of the outcasts and punished because they were strange by gargoyle standards and wanted to interact with people. They are the best support characters.

The Princess and the Sorcerer – These two are selfish distrusting folks who eventually feel guilt after the gargoyles sacrifice to save them and promise to protect the gargoyles hatchlings. Probably the weakest but that isn’t there fault as much as a time issue. The episode could have explored them both more, but they achieve their purpose for future episode arcs and showing Goliath not all humans are bad.

Xanatos

Xanatos – This guy has had a trope named after him because he is so intelligent and manipulative. Everything he does is a gambit and he has plans within plans or something to hold over the gargoyles head so that he’ll survive another day. Jonathan Frakes owned this role and he is one of my favorite complicated villains. His motivations work because he feels human even if he Lex Luthory at times. One of the best animated villains and the ultimate chess master. This episode he still has the gargoyles to manipulate at the end and he has nothing to hold over his head. He loses nothing at the episodes end even with the reveal of him trying to kill the gargoyles and only using them for himself.

The Message – There are reasons to trust and not trust people, but differences should not be a factor as there are good people in any group. It’s very X-Meny, but because their gargoyles it adds even more. The gargoyles look nothing like us and are like aliens and are different and good. It is sad every time people react towards fear towards them and seeing Demona consumed by hatred to the point she is no longer the person she was before.

I got to say I highly recommend this Pilot and can’t wait to review the rest of the season. It’s solid and gives a lot of room to explore all the characters. This episode has a wonderful larger point, tells a beautiful story and creates an interesting species of creatures while keeping a dark tone intermixed with hope. If you haven’t seen it, check it out.

Final Score is 10 / 10. One of the best pilots of any show.

How to Train Your Dragon (2010): To Build a Bridge between Vikings and Dragons

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“How to Train Your Dragon,” is the story of Hiccup and his relationship with the dragon he catches and his father Stoick. The main drama revolves around Hiccup being outcast among the Vikings and dealing with the threat dragons who are destroying the Isle of Berk, the home of the Vikings. From here the drama unfolds.

“How to Train Your Dragon,” was one of the few truly good Dreamworks stories since their 2D animation days and like all profitable stories became a Franchise getting a television show and some short movies within the Universe…as well as the sequel that I plan on seeing for the next review. What helps this series I think is the fact that it is based off a book series by Cressida Cowell so there already is a lot material to take inspiration from for the characters and setting.

Without further ado, here is my assessment of the film:

Pros: The Music – The music is fantastic and I definitely plan on listening to it again for my own stories. It has Scottish themes in the sound and also uses silence for tension at just the right points and a soaring score when Hiccup and his dragon Toothless take to the air.

The animation – The animation is Pixar quality. Unlike most of the crap Dreamworks was putting out around this time this one was made with love. They even go into why certain characters look the way they do…such as the different types of dragons, or Gobber who lost a hand and a foot fighting dragons.

The characters – The characters get really fleshed out. There are some their for comic relief, like most of the teens who become Dragonriders (Astrid is the only one of them who really gets any exploration…the rest are stereotypes (the jock, the creeps, the nerd). But they are still handled with respect and given a moment to shine. Not a single minor character is useless or does nothing. The main characters of course get some great development which I’ll go into further down in the relationships they are a part of.

The Dragons – Their designs are awesome! From fat and thin to sleek, to many heads or one…they also are like cats and dogs in personality which makes their interactions enjoyable as well as the process of training them that the Vikings eventually go through thanks to Hiccup and Toothless.

Special recognition to Astrid (the toughest character besides Stoick) and Gobber who is actually funny and a pretty great mentor the kids and Hiccup, and of course Stoick for dealing with the conflict of being a leader and his relationship to Hiccup.

Hiccup and Stoick/The Father and Son Relationship – This is the relationship that really drives the story. Stoick is all about fighting and cannot see beyond the old ways in relationship to dragons for most of the film their difference is reflected in his son too, who he is unable to accept for most of the film. This creates great drama and tension between the characters leading to some amazing payoff at the end (the ending gets it’s own entry).

Hiccup and Toothless – This relationship is wonderful in that it is part of Hiccup’s journey to accept himself. Toothless needs his inventive skills and Hiccup owes Toothless a debt for breaking his tail in the first place. There journey from distrust to friendship is the other driving plot in this film and it is from this relationship that Hiccup is eventually accepted by the tribe and his crush Astrid.

The first and second flight – The first flight is when Hiccup is learning how to fly with Toothless, it here the sensation of flying and falling are the most strong. It is a great scene and shows where Hiccup gets his confidence more fully.

The second flight is the first time he breaks down a bridge with Toothless as he shows Astrid that Toothless is safe and it is here where the romance begins as well as Astrid’s apology to Toothless for initially trying to attack him.

The final fight – The Boss Fight with the Alpha Dragon is fantastic. We get to see human ingenuity with Hiccup and the Dragon riders against the biggest and deadliest dragon of them all. We also see Stoick finally appreciating Hiccup’s perspective and the love he’s felt all this time and hid. One of the best scenes of the fight when the Dragon takes off and Toothless destroys it’s wings. The final battle also has consequences leaving Toothless injured and Hiccup losing a foot.

The Ending – Is fantastic…dragons and Vikings working together and in it both of them profiting from it. Stoick has also finally learned to accept and appreciate his son. Hiccup and Toothless have also exchanged roles as Toothless helps Hiccup walk as Hiccup had taught Toothless how to fly. There is also his ending monologue which ties back into the beginning (My village sucks, we’re tough and we got unique pests (original) to the new one (We’re tough, our village sucks and we have the best pets).

Okay: The Romance – It could have been better. Astrid hates Hiccup for a long time because he isn’t like a traditional Viking and she see’s him as putting the tribe at risk to the dragons. Once she sees his perspective she falls in love, but I wish it had been more gradual. It isn’t bad, it just could have been handled better.

Astrid – I would have liked to see her save Hiccup once in the last battle. They set up this really cool character, but once she became romantic partner her role was diminished, especially in the action in regards to Hiccup. She even has a damsel in distress moment (which is more redeemable I guess in that she saves him a bunch during training before he learns how to train Toothless).

“How to Train Your Dragon,” still stands as one of the best Dreamworks films and one of my favorites. The themes are handled beautifully and the animation is still amazing to watch today. I look forward to seeing the sequel and how they handle this new world where Dragons and Vikings live in harmony. I highly recommend this film for anyone looking for a good action/adventure/fantasy film with a larger point and great characters.

My Score for “How to Train your Dragon” is 9.5 / 10.