6/14/05

Tokyo Godfathers

Satoshi Kon's Tokyo Godfather, loosely based (I think) on the John Ford film, is a joy of an anime. Three homeless bums--a man, a man who wished he was a woman, and a young girl--find a baby abandoned in an alley which they try to raise together.

Kon goes for the obvious route with this premise--a lighthearted comedy, which is possibly the only way to play it (Damon Runyon probably invented the genre with his short story "The Luck of Roaring Gulch" and no one's found a better approach since)--but it's the way Kon executes the comedy that makes it his own. He's the rare anime filmmaker who relies less on elaborate animation and digital effects (they're there, but Kon doesn't call attention to them) and more on old-fashioned gimmicks like characterization and plotting. He acknowledges the pathos of the homeless' situation--at one point, we see a group of young men doing their annual 'clean-up:' destroying the shacks and beating up their inhabitants)--without wallowing in the grimnness (for all the desperation of their circumstance, Kon's heroes are a feisty if beleagured trio).

Unlike Nimoy's 3 Men and a Baby, Kon largely avoids cheap laughs or pratfalls; most of the humor comes from character and the way the three consistently respond to each crisis (when Kon does allow a pratfall, it's in a less comic-book manner than the Nimoy comedy, and you see the bruises where the victim hits the ground). He has a delicate way with sentiment: even if we do come to learn each of the 3 bums' stories, we learn gradually, with little visual or aural cues to ease the transition into flashback; sometimes the character tells his or her own story, and Kon treats it as a dramatic monologue, with quiet respect for the actor's moment in the spotlight.

In stories about the homeless, there's always the possibility that they will go back to wherever they come from. Kon's treatment of this: he has each of them meet up with the parent or family they've left, but doesn't have them actually go back, content to leave matters open (a sequel, maybe?). The coincidental meetings and encounters seem funny, then seem a bit much, then come so often (and never when you expect them--or even when you DO expect them Kon puts a spin on it so that it's part of the joke) that it becomes a comic style all its own, like Oscar Wilde on a neorealist kick.

Kon seems to be the kind of canny commercial storyteller that isn't afraid to entertain, and isn't afraid to find smart ways of doing it. Wonderful fun.

1 comment:

dnangel8988 said...

WOW!!! I really love this movie! I've been hoping that there would be a sequel to it, but then again that may be asking a bit too much. The movie was great so I don't want there to be a sequel if it's going to tarnish the image of TGFs. But how I long to see what happens! :)