Most people aren't neutral on holiday films: either you love the cheesy romances, snow-globe-ready small towns, and scrooge-turned-saint storylines, or you hate them. And if you do love them, you probably love them on their own terms. As one New York Times article puts it, “No one watches these movies for the acting or the plots, which are usually pretty bad. You are watching them for Christmas spirit.”
But if you unironically love the festive season (cold weather included) but are a confessed holiday movie hater, you may find yourself stuck in the middle. Isn't there a Christmas movie with interesting characters, great production values, and that near mythical festive feeling that so many of us crave? Fear not, all ye faithful; there is, and it's called Tokyo Godfathers.
Tokyo Godfathers is a 2003 film written and directed by Satoshi Kon, the late Japanese filmmaker widely known (in the right circles) for more disconcerting projects like Perfect Blue, Paranoia Agent, and Paprika. Tokyo Godfathers, however, is a departure from his usual fare. Instead of the psychedelic imagery and morally muddled storylines that typify Kon's other works, it is the comparatively heartwarming the story of a trio of three misfits—Gin, a middle-aged alcoholic; Hana, a transgender woman and former drag performer; and Miyuki, a teenage runaway—all experiencing homelessness, who find an infant abandoned on Christmas Eve and journey to return baby Kiyoko to her family.
Along the way, their found family finds many others: a yakuza boss whose beloved daughter is marrying a scumbag, a Latin American hitman whose job puts his partner and young son in jeopardy, and the variously broken families of the three main characters. Tokyo Godfathers' focus on family is one of its most traditionally Christmasy elements, but it also doesn't shy away from the darker side of the season. As Gin, Hana, and Miyuki journey through the frozen city streets, they encounter (and occasionally inflict) more than their fair share of pain and discomfort.
But Tokyo Godfathers is ultimately optimistic about people and our capacity to help one another, even in the middle of adverse circumstances. And if that's what the holidays mean to you, why not give it a try this season?
Looking for more anime? Check out the list below for more animated movies from the Land of the Rising Sun.
For when you've already seen everything ever made by Hayao Miyazaki.
This post originally appeared in an expanded form on the post calvin.