Having suffered through the painfully pretentious and shallow, pseudo-Lynchian mess of Perfect Blue, I was understandably skeptical about watching another film by Satoshi Kon (I have not yet seen Millennium Actress, but am now quite intrigued to do so). Tokyo Godfathers (a title which at first struck me as belonging most probably to a pseudo-psychological mafia thriller) was not only a pleasant surprise; it was the best anime feature I've seen in many years, probably since Ghost in the Shell, excluding anything by Hayao Miyazaki. Like the classic Grave of the Fireflies, Tokyo Godfathers struck me as unusual in the fact that it draws much from European cinema English, Irish, German or Italian while most commercial anime features try to mimic American film-making. But while Grave of the Fireflies was painfully sad and bleak, Tokyo Godfathers is irresistibly charming, and manages to be funny and incredibly touching at once like few anime films few animated films, at that ever achieve.
Tokyo Godfathers is remarkably non-violent, as pacifistic perhaps as Miyazaki's films. You won't find any grand futuristic structures or fantastical creatures here; in fact, the animation may seem crude at first. But the characters are where the film really hits its mark. Kon triumphs, like in his excellent series Paranoia Agent, by not succumbing to the accepted prototypes and standards of how characters should look in an anime film; the lead characters in the film are all gorgeously ugly, in a way that even Miyazaki had not yet dared to do. Even the child character, Miyuki, is chubby, and not cute and beautiful in the way little girls 'should' be, by the unwritten laws of anime. Thus, Kon's characters are believable and true to life; they are three anti-heroes, outcasts from society, each running away from their pasts. Especially charming is Hana (AKA 'Uncle Bag'), the golden-hearted transvestite, who supplies much of the film's comic relief but also some of its most touching moments.
Tokyo Godfathers despite some far-fetched but amusing plot twists and coincidences is at its core a very simple story, a beautiful little story about family, love and friendship. Few anime films are so unpretending; and thus, few anime films manage to be so strong. Watch Tokyo Godfathers; you'll laugh, you'll cry. And believe you me, ten minutes into it you'll forget it was ever animated.