Tokyo Godfathers has become a little Christmas tradition for me now – for the past three years, I’ve seen a least a little bit of Satoshi Kon’s 2003 film. It’s now an element of Christmas that I can only compare to watching a nativity play.
Following the story of three homeless people, Tokyo Godfathers is set on Chrismtas Eve. It’s not just this that makes it relevant to Christmas, though. Many argue that the three protagonists (Hana, Miyuki and Gin) represent the characters of the Ghosts of Past, Present and Future from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Although fairly accurate, this isn’t the only metaphor we’re going along with today.
As much as I’ll be returning to look at the above metaphor, I’m here to argue why Tokyo Godfathers should be seen as the anime nativity that everyone should watch at least once. I will admit some points may be a little vague, if not a little “out there”, but there are definitely some points to consider here.
Comparing Kon’s film to the Nativity, Hana, Miyuki and Gin are, without a doubt, the Three Wise Men. Sure, they might not be the brightest intellectually, but they’re definitely wise. They’ve been through hard times – a runaway teenager, a transwoman and an alcoholic – and are therefore aware of (at least some of) their consequences. Being homeless, some would also argue that they have to be quite street-wise. Similarly to the Magi, they first make an appearance whilst finding something – instead of finding their way to a newborn, however, they’re searching for food. Yet, whilst searching, they come across an abandoned baby. Similarly to the Magi, however, they do have to go on a long journey to be able to find the abandoned child’s parents.
Christmas Eve is quite an important date in terms of the Nativity. Why? Saint Francis of Assisi is often credited with performing the first Nativity play on Christmas Eve in 1223. The Nativity itsef is also featured in the film. Hana and Gin are shown to be watching it as they attend a Church’s soup kitchen. Kon absolutely loves his foreshadowing techniques, as seen within his other films such as Paprika, so it should come to no surprise that a nativity at the beginning film is a foreshadowing sign of the rest of the film. Whoever was in charge of marketing the film was also going along with this (although I have no doubt that Kon was also involved in this). Some of the art used in the promotion of Tokyo Godfathers also depicts the Nativity with Kiyoko (the baby) being in a “manger”, Tokyo Tower being featured in the background acting as what can I can only compared to the bright star which lead the Magi to the newborn baby Jesus. Finally, the name Kiyoko was chosen by Hana due to its meaning of “Pure One”. Although not a direct link to Jesus and the Nativity, this could be seen as a slight reference to God, who’s often called The Holy One. Although not quite synonymous, both words give similar connotations.
Now, going back to the metaphor that is more commonly applied to Hana, Gin and Miyuki of them being the Ghosts of Christmas Eve – this is also a fairly accurate metaphor to use. For instance, the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge as a boy and as a young man, showing the events that happened in Scrooge’s earlier life. This is arguably the same as Miyuki, for she represents the homeless youth. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge says the following as he begins to question the intentions of The Ghost of Christmas Past:
“Spirit!” says Scrooge, “show me no more! Conduct me home. Why do you delight to torture me?” (Stave 2, pg. 26)
Applying this to Tokyo Godfathers, Miyuki is also tortured by her own past. She is reluctant to remember what happened in the past, scared by the outcome of it all. The Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge that people are enjoying themselves – everyone is content and are happy to have one another. Upon seeing a clerk’s son as a cripple, he begins to beg the spirit:
…”tell me if Tiny Tim lives.” (Stave 3, pg. 34)
This can be argued to be similar to the character of Gin. In one scene, he is beaten up “by some kids”, before he is ‘rescued by an angel’ before being nursed by the workers at a club where Hana used to work. It is also implied he is reunited with his family towards the end of the film, connoting that he was once again happy and with his loved ones. It also can be argued to represent Hana, who is often scared for Gin’s life, particularly due to him often being involved in fights and due to his alcoholism. Hana is also representative of being accepted by loved ones and wants to have a family of her own, envious of those who are able to be mothers.
Thus, although the actual plot of Tokyo Godfathers isn’t covered in an abundance of Christmas plotlines on the surface, you can see similarities between Kon’s masterpiece and that of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and that of the Nativity if you look more closely. That being said, it’s not as serious as either of the two comparisons and makes a remarkable, heart-warming animated Christmas tale, which I’m more than happy to have had made a little Christmas tradition over the past few years.
This post was written as the third installment in my #12DaysOfAnime posts! #12DaysOfAnime is a challenge taken on by loads of anime bloggers, vloggers, podcasters and other people on many different platforms. We just have to post twelve consecutive posts about anything anime-related for the twelve days leading up to Christmas!
Keep an eye out for my other posts that will be a part of the #12DaysOfAnime Challenge! These will cover a variety of topics such as anime reviews, conventions and much more, so there’s going to be something a little different every day!
Hope to see you around!