Tokyo Godfathers: Baptism, Conventionalism, and Hope

The Boundary of Imagination and Reality

Satoshi Kon has reached his peak of success at the time. People consider him to be one of the most influential and important Japanese animation directors. Thanks to the two masterpieces of Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress, he made Tokyo Godfathers. It served as the third feature film by the late director, released in theaters in 2003. The film briefly represents the realism revolution for Kon, released a little over a year after his previous film.

Despite renewing his working relationship with Madhouse for the sake of realizing the technicalities of the film, he instead disrupted the collaboration with Sadayuki Murai. People know Murai for his work such as Durarara!! and his most popular series, Boogiepop Phantom. As a screenwriter, he has assisted Kon in writing his two previous films. However, as the substitute, Kon chose another very strong figure, namely Keiko Nobumoto who wrote Cowboy Bebop.

By playing non-amateurs in the animation industry, Kon and Nobumoto weave the conventionalism of Tokyo Godfathers. It is a chronological narrative following the protagonist’s story, at such a moment, interspersed with brief flashbacks. Like Kon movies in general, there is a boundary between imagination and reality. However, it is the opposite of Kon’s previous feature film at the base.

Kon’s Desire of Art

Kon felt the need for new challenges in developing his profession. Like other artists, he needs to find new motivation and needs to test his artistic talent so that he doesn’t stagnate in his comfort zone. One could say that the cause was the breakup of collaboration with Murai. However, it is causing the director to change his vision so suddenly. Not until two years after the release of Millennium Actress, that didn’t happen at all.

In an interview, Kon himself explained how his desire to make his choices revolutionized his art. Mixing reality and dream set Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress. Things can become redundant when audiences create things the same way. Therefore, Kon decided to work with a different kind of story. He feels that in the face of such a challenge, a very strong job poses it. The narrative can be very theatrical when Kon makes, the gap between reality and dream becomes blurred.

With the film, he deliberately made a story focused and simple by exposing the background of the characters more.

The Chorus

Far away, Kon has familiarized his audience with the first major difference in the number of characters. Like his previous works, it has only one central protagonist. Supporting characters always surround the protagonist. However, it’s not about less is more important. However, Tokyo Godfathers has three protagonists in every aspect. While it’s still too far away for people to think of as a chorus, it’s still not uncommon to see three protagonists play central roles in a film that Kon is directing.

Undoubtedly, the film follows the stylistic and narrative structure of canonical cinema. However, one of the most unusual features of the film is the choice of protagonists. By being non-marginal, it doesn’t mean under Kon isn’t experimenting at all. When it comes to social and morals, Kon does not adopt the purpose of information and not for documentation. His intention refers more to, for example, an addiction who escapes his whole life to the outside and the alienation of homeless people around the metropolitan city of Tokyo.

Instead of focusing on the dark side of Japanese society, Kon engulfs his audience in a narrative of exile and expulsion. Apart from unnecessary impressions, the film sees humans as objects. When humans are useless, humans become simple trash. The choice of placing the homeless as the protagonist is a bit out of the box. Even if another diversity becomes symbolic, it will not be an absolute innovation in cinema.

However, it has no precedent in Japanese animation. It’s natural when his audience asks what made the director take a special choice like such.

The Theme of Hope

In the first place, Kon chooses three homeless people who are very different from each other. Whether based on social class, gender, or age, each character has the same motivation. Each motif also leads the character into a homeless life that is escaping from each character’s past. Without going into explanation, Kon finds out that if he makes the main character homeless, a message to society or not behind such a job will emerge.

Apart from being aware, it is important not only to present the problem of homelessness in the narrative. However, the focus is on the mindset around the things that the audience discards are the people that society has discarded. Guys can take runaway and homeless girls. However, the civil rights that the people have are very few in number. In Japanese society, the study of how society separates individuals from the mainstream will once again rejuvenate society.

On the other hand, Miyuki, Hana, and Gin are just kind-hearted people. Divine intervention allowed them to reunite with their loved ones. The city rewards them by having them christen Tokyo after completing the last such act of kindness. Exactly what Kon said, his message was a cry of hope. If people want to give new life to an immoral society, then they have to start over from a new generation.

It’s back in the film press in the representation of little Kiyoko. Each character baptizes each other positive values about humanity in doing such. Like the protagonists of the film, people who have escaped the cruelty of society need baptism.

A Path of Penance

Simply put, Miyuki, Hana, and Gin choose a homeless life as a path of penance. What emerges from the stories of past protagonists is how the three central characters deliberately escape. Shame on their respective families surrounded them. In the first opening of Tokyo Godfathers, Kon is set inside a Christian church. The priest performs the function, a ceremony that focuses on the birth of Jesus.

With a full Christmas spirit and not a traditional Japanese holiday, the willingness of each protagonist to want to be a part of melancholy, feelings, and family, Kon emphasizes by forming a family without blood ties. Unconsciously, it only acts as a way of life. While a little too sadistic, romantic destiny ultimately aims to warm people’s hearts. The indifference of modern society makes insensitivity of every character.

Ironically, it’s still a Christmas movie. On the other hand, Kon takes the theme of destiny as he did in Millennium Actress. From the point of view of Christianity, the choice to propose is precisely because of how people understand destiny. Instead for Christians, God’s plan can explain everything, there is no destiny. It’s just the path that God has chosen for people. At a specific moment, it emphasizes when Hana recites such a concept, seeing the world from an optimistic perspective even when she finds a baby in the trash.

A Reference of Jesus

At such a moment, after the three protagonists find a little girl in the trash, they take the baby to their shelter. They decided to name the girl Kiyoko, which means a pure child or silent night. By being a clear reference to Jesus, the closeness between the Christian Messiah and Kiyoko proves itself, Kiyoko time and again, indirectly, saving three protagonists from certain death. The three protagonists guide each of them to become comet stars towards a social awakening.

Tokyo Godfathers is a very different film from the big screen films before which Kon directed. However, the tropes in each character thus deviate from the concept of destiny that the Millennium Actress once presented. In the film, Chiyoko sees an evil spirit. The director expands his thinking once again, doing so by reversing such a concept that the film expresses to pose a philosopher’s question about divine design and evil spirits.

The Archetype

Once again, Tokyo Godfathers proves Kon as a director who managed to free himself as a director who made surrealism. Nothing happened clearly. It is being a film about how the director shows his flexibility of art above all. By showing his freedom in doing whatever he wants, another proof of how he never changes his art. After all, it has always been a constant evolution. Unlike his previous works, the film became a family film for everyone.

The Christmas theme does nothing but amplifies the target audience and the symbolism of the themes that Kon presents in the first place. However, it does not deny the origins and finds an allusion to Kon’s trademarks. It gave his admirers an important piece in rearranging his mosaic of thought. Therefore, the film is not just about an indirect relationship between children, mothers, and fathers’ characters. Archetype becomes a reliable game for every character.


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