Tokyo Godfather- Christmas/Religions/Japan | Video Essay

Tokyo Godfather- Christmas/Religions/Japan | Video Essay

Merry Christmas And happy holidays I searched high and low for a good Christmas movie from Asia And it’s not easy The lack of Christmas movies in Asia is to be expected The festival just doesn’t carry the same cultural or religious meaning there Japan mostly just celebrates a commercialized version of Christmas Some may say that’s also the case here in North America To which I can only say “All right, it’s a good point” Like in the west, the rampant consumerism And the lack of spirituality Added with the dominance of western culture And fading traditions Had people in Asia somewhat concerned with their identities So it is no surprise that the best Asian Christmas movie Sets itself around that concern Written and directed by the legendary Satoshi Kon Tokyo Godfathers is an sit-com anime In which three homeless people find an abandoned baby on Christmas And decide to journey across Tokyo to help find her parents It’s a heartfelt yet hilarious story containing themes of family Regret, redemption And for the purpose of this episode How Christmas and religions fit into modern day Japan It’s gonna be a big topic So, let’s get right into it. First, let’s set the stage What does Tokyo look like in your mind? Well, to Kon, it appears to be Commercial signs Lots and lots of them Dominating the skyline of Tokyo Commercial sign is a bit of a motif in this film It’s how the opening credits are shown Billboards Store signs And even the side of a bus Even the homeless tent is built out of a traveling advertisement billboard Everywhere you go Giant commercials follow According to World Bank Japan is currently the third largest consumer market in the world Consumerism is the lifeblood of Japan Through the use of signs, Kon paints a realistic yet worrying Tokyo In which commercialism literally build homes And cemetery offerings are commercial products Understanding this brings us back to the opening moments of this film Here, we see a young runaway girl Spitting on people from the rooftop The unsuspecting victim looks up And see this sign, which says “Tears of Angel” Similarly, there’s a drag queen nightclub called Angel Tower These choices show that Commercialism is so woven into Japanese society It even co-opted religious imageries into it On the other hand A traditional Japanese market that used to have a religious significance Is now more or less a commercial attraction In this film Tokyo is basically Christmas Where commercialism superseded religions Now that we have our location decked out It’s time for our characters We have Hana, the ex-drag queen who was abandoned by his parents Gin, who lost his daughter due to debt And Miyuki, a girl who ran away from home Because her cat was given away by her father All three characters lost something before the start of the film And through their journey They will learn to resolve these loses For Hana, it’s his birth parents “I never knew my real mother” He does, however, has a foster mother Who has been nice to him This complicated relationship with his parental figures Is perhaps what shaped his view on religion A view of which, as you may expect Is shared among many Japanese people Now, in the film, Hana clearly believes in God “Kyoko is God’s messenger.” “We’re her servants” But his religion is never explicitly specified We see Hana attends church sermon with joy Happily eats from a Buddhist cemetery And prays at a Shinto shrine Hana believes in a god But of which god, it matters little to him In this scene, Miyuki is also doing the new year pray with Hana Miyuki ran away because her cat was given away Her cat, interestingly, is named Angel Without her Angel Miyuki lost faith in her home and ran away So it’s unsurprising that she is an atheist As we see her mocking her religious mother In a sense, Miyuki is practicing the cultural side of shinto religion Praying, not as a follower But as a religious tourist FInally, we have Gin A middle age man who was crippled by debt And lost contact with his daughter Gin’s daughter was named Kiyoko The pure child, the holy child The lack of connection to the holy child Is perhaps why Gin has no faith in Well, anything, really Similar to Miyuki, he is seen making fun of religion “Not me, thanks” “Be quite!” But unlike her, he doesn’t even practice the cultural side of it When faced with the choice between magic and an ambulance “Ambulance…” “Well! Aren’t you rude!” As Hana was eating from the cemetary out of necessity Gin is seen drinking a bottle of wine for pleasure Combined together, the three represent over half of the Japanese population The half that self-identifies as non-religious Now it’s worth noting that non-religious in this context doesn’t mean atheist Hana may believe in god But he doesn’t follow a specific religious organization And that puts him in this category Religious belief in Japan is much more agnostic It exists in this limbo where people practice it without believing it Or believing it without following it To these three, religion is used more as a resource and an attraction Faith, is a sort of there but not really kind of thing That all changed, when they meet Baby Jesus I have to clarify that this is not actually Baby Jesus Nor does the baby symbolizes Christianity Yes, the location the baby was found Draws some visual similarities to the nativity scene In a… “je ne sais quoi” sort of way But the baby also has a birthmark That resembles an Urna A common Buddhist symbol And the baby is a girl Which is either to match Amaterasu of Shinto religion Or a deliberate choice to avoid matching any specific idol Either way, I believe the baby here Represents the general concept of faith and spirituality Instead of any specific religion Anyway, three homeless people who lost their touch with their spirituality Find an abandoned baby in a recycling dump And decide to journey across Tokyo To find her mother What follows is a series of miraculous coincidences Let’s take Gin’s side of story as an example They go on a train The train halts So they walk They save a Yakuza boss The boss owns the nightclub the baby mother worked in The boss’ daughter is getting married today The three attends Only to realize the groom is the loan shark Who put Gin in debt Breaking his family Gin got drunk Tries to beat him up But then an assissination happens out of nowhere Separating the three Gin saw a hobo died Then he got beaten up by delinquents himself A bunch of other miracles happen And Gin bumps into her daughter Let’s roll back a little Gin started off wanting nothing to do with the baby “I wonder what the baby’s name is.” “John Doe” His nihilistic lack of love for people reaches the breaking point When he sees the loan shark that destroyed
his life In an expensive wedding Gin once again faces a problem that is caused by What else but money Money problem destroyed his family And if he had attacked the loan shark He’ll surely be killed by the Yakuza So, it is a complete miracle that an unrelated assassination attempt Interrupts him Now seperated Gin walks down the alley and witnessed the death of a hobo And later, he is attacked and left to die as well When facing his mortality Gin finally realizes that he does care about the baby He can’t care for his daughter The least he can do is to care for an abandoned child And thus, he has a new found love for this makeshift “family” Guided by even more complete coincidences He ends up bumping into his daughter in a hospital Resolving the biggest regret in his life Other characters also go through their own
journey While Miyuki didn’t become homeless for monetary reasons She ran away because she had lost her trust and faith in her family In other words, Tokyo Godfathers is showing us the danger Of indulgence in only the physical Be it money Or the act of losing your cat Should the characters maintain their faith in their families They wouldn’t have been homeless As their families are always ready to reconcile It is only when they found the baby And through her Re-engage themself with the unseen side of things Love, hope, spirituality, whatever you call it Only then, do they managed to sort out their lives In effect, Tokyo Godfathers is a film not unlike many other Christmas classics Namely, A Christmas Carol “Humbug” But for Japan The rapid commercialization of what was once spiritual May have worried Satoshi Kon And this concern is echoed by other Japanese artists as well At the same time, however There are also people who no longer see the need for a god in modern society “What we wish for is…” “A world without gods” Tokyo Godfathers offers a more… neutral option Hana is the only spiritual person of the three And also happens to be the most pro-active in this journey Jumping to his death to save this baby Just as he is about to fall He is saved by a violent gust of wind That can only be explained as… a Christmas miracle As he admires the beauty of a sunrise And procees to land gracefully You know Hana is the type that doesn’t expect a gift from Santa But appreciates it… When he does receive one

Update: in regards to Hana's gender pronunce.
Hana is indeed transgender. The original episode script calls Hana by the pronunce "her", but I changed it for the following reasons:
The "Animax Making of Featurette" introduces Hana as an ex-drag queen and the pronunce "him".
Hana worked in a drag queen bar, which I supposed is the reason.
Hana says he is a woman at heart, but also calls himself a homo (for being in love with Gin), so his gender identity isn't as concrete.

Of course, Hana is a fictional character written by cis gender people, so I have no idea if that's intentional or not. To remain respectful to the source material, I decided to call Hana by his official descriptions.


Welcome to the last episode of 2019! Seeing this channel grew from a thousand subscribers to what we have today is hard to process. I love you all!
If you wish to support this channel directly, you can visit our Patreon page at Patrons who pledge 5 dollars or more can get access to extra episodes that aren't released to the public!
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Thanks you all for an amazing year, I'll see you in 2020!

OMG this is legit one of my favorite anime movies of all time. Thanks for covering it.

Like in the west for the most part isnt just practical, Spiritually its really a holiday to get in the darkes time together to feast with the clan aka family like its originator yule, thats christmas and advent, thinking about what we have and coming together to endure the dark time in the year. Or i heard once a light in a dark time, which is exactly what this movie is about.And why christmas can be pretty depressing, additional to the literally dark time of the year. Happy holidays.

Tokyo Godfathers has definitely become a Christmas movie-watching staple for me. The only other Asian film that comes to mind for me is Wong Kar-Wai's 2046 which is set AT Christmas but isn't a "Christmas movie" (I lump it in with Die Hard, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Go and many, many others as 'Christmassy movies').

I still can't believe that the Philippines, a prominent Catholic country has no iconic Christmas movie. Even with the annual Christmas Film Fest, there's no movie that I can say screams "Christmas", since for the most part, we only have a horror franchise that plays during Christmas.

Hey AC! Happy holidays! I'm a big fan of your videos and it's super nice to have asian rep on filmtube. That being said, it would be remiss of me not to critique your characterization of Hana from an LGBT lens. For 2003 Japan Tokyo Godfathers is a remarkably progressive film for the time and place (as well as one of my favorite films) and a large part of that is in its representation of Hana as a transwoman. She's fun, funny and probably the most likeable character in the film. That being said, the film isn't perfect by any means and still carries a lot of regressive and misunderstood Japanese views on the gay and trans communities, though I think Satoshi Kon still did his best. Which is why it was honestly sort of painful every time you misgendered Hana. I'm sure the frankly transmisogynistic subs didn't help with that very much. I'm not the essayist here so I'll just keep this short. I liked your Iron Ladies video so I know you're sympathetic to LGBT otherwise I wouldn't have bothered. Hana isn't just an ex-drag queen, Hana is trans, that's it. Thanks. See you next year.

It's been a long time since I've seen this movie (boredly browsing old directtv movie channels back in 2009 lol) but I remember Hana being transgender, not a drag queen.

Great movie though. Beautiful artstyle and a really touching, heartfelt plot.

Lovely insights – actually very appropriate to the season! Happy holidays and here's to more great work in 2020!

Just a small note, not that I think anyone realistically was confused, but the subtitle at 10:40 should presumably read Dir. Hayao Miyazaki – might want to change that if you get a chance.

I'll have to put this on my list for Wednesday, thank you for the recommendation!

I hate to be that person, but you have Brian Henson credited as the director of Princess Mononoke at about 10:40.

Great choice for your last video of 2019…I really enjoy your channel, all the best for the holidays, and I wish you success in all your endeavors in 2020! The one God that matters is the one within you !

God, it's been ages since I've seen this film or any of Kon's other masterworks. I don't know if I can fit it in before the time of Christmas in two days, but at the very least, I will watch it next year, not only at Christmas but to mark the 10 year anniversary of Kon's passing.

This is a good movie, no doubt there. Lots of great details in the writing and visuals. My only gripe of it is some of the plot points are WAY too convenient. Like, wow do these characters luck out quite a few times.

I can't say that I was expecting Xenoblade Chronicles in a Christmas episode of Accented Cinema, but I sure ain't complaining.

I still mourn the loss of Satoshi Kon. I genuinely believe that, had he lived and kept working, he'd be remembered among the true greats of animation. His "Millennium Actress" is probably my all-time favorite animated film.

I tend to think of Tokyo Godfather as what happens when Satoshi Kon decides to let loose and be a bit goofy. It's a great film. And that is one lucky baby.

Great thematic analysis ! Thanks for your work, it's one of the most consistant-quality channels i found on youtube. Happy holidays !

I watched this when I was little, but I found it to be boring because, you know that kids aren't that interested in animes with heavy topics. But taste changed, and I appreciate this more.

I think it's worth noting that the commercial and banal permeating the spiritual is not entirely new in Japan. For example, Asakusa Shrine/Sensoji (a major Tokyo temple/Shinto shrine complex) has had it's famous street of vendors on the grounds since likely the 1700s, and during the Edo period it was a big spot for gambling, drinking, etc.

Great analysis. I probably would have also compared Hana to a bodhisattva in the story, because of the intentional good deeds for the child (similar to the Jataka tales about self-sacrifice), the ambiguous gender (many bodhisattvas are both sexes in iconography), and the motherly connection some bodhisattvas have in East Asia (Kannon being the obvious one, and comparable to Mary).

i think i interpret this film just slightly differently: finding a good family helps you figure out what kind of family you want to have, and how to build it. faith in humanity is called faith for a reason, and it is just as valuable in a world that seems to commodify everyone and everything

I would of never known why Asia has so few Christmas films but once you explained it it made total sense. Was a fun watch and helped us in the USA (Wife and I are in Chicago) learn some more about Asian cinema we love. Hope @Accented Cinema you and yours have a wonderful Merry Christmas 🙂

Hi! You accidentally left "Dir. Brian Henson" in the Princess Mononoke tag in the video, instead of Hayao Miyazaki at 10:40 .
Btw, I agree with other people in the comments about misgendering Hana, though I understand your reasoning. Still, I would have appreciated an explanation/disclaimer in the video…


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