Anime isn’t just for nerds or kids anymore. In the past
few years, quite a number of anime films released in the United
States have won over critics, infiltrated into the mainstream, and
even won Oscars (Miyazaki’s masterpiece “Spirited
Away”). Anime director Satoshi Kon’s latest,
“Tokyo Godfathers,” has garnered similar praise and
mainstream appeal with its combination of slapstick and
melodrama.

Laura Wong
Laura Wong
Laura Wong
The father of this child is … Wesley Snipes! (Courtesy of Sony)

But is it too mainstream? It shouldn’t be, considering
that the cast of characters consists of three bums — a drunk,
a transvestite and a runaway teenager — and an abandoned
baby. In addition, there are enough plot twists to make your head
spin. Yet for an art form that, in many respects, allows for great
fluidity and freedom in structure, atmosphere, tone and
probability, this animated film is disappointingly rigid.

All of the plot twists turn into a string of random, lucky
coincidences that helps the characters find what they are in search
of — specifically, reconciliation with a lost past and the
abandoned baby’s parents. Every time the story reveals that
the twist falls perfectly in place with the protagonists’
plan, the viewer can’t help but roll his eyes.

For a film that boasts gritty realism — the animation
looks startlingly authentic and uncompromisingly portrays the
roughness of the streets — its happenings are largely
fantastical, and the twists, instead of complicating the narrative,
make it simplistic and formulaic. The three heroes do not complete
the journey themselves; instead, they are led by the hand of the
director the whole way.

“Godfathers” has a great premise. Three bums
alienated from their families bond together to create their own
makeshift family while coming to terms with the families that they
threw away. The film, however, gets a bit heavy-handed in its
delivery as the maudlin hysterics of Hana the transvestite lead to
gigantic arguments, the awkwardly timed flashbacks and dream
sequences reek of melodrama and the characters suffer brushes with
death.

Kon tries to balance the sentimental and serious story with
goofy or slapstick antics, which are often enough to elicit ample
chuckles. Hana’s fondness for reciting haikus at moments he
finds profound is cleverly executed, with the writing of the haiku
at the side of the screen. The expressive, flexible faces of the
cartoons are perfect for comedy.

The versatility of the expressions certainly help create real,
sympathetic characters that ground the improbable story. This, in
addition to the breathtaking scenery, almost makes the
over-sentimentality forgivable. But can it completely wash away the
sickly sweetness clinging to your body by the film’s sappy
conclusion?

“Tokyo Godfathers” is reasonably entertaining,
amusing and at times even touching, but the perfectly-timed
coincidences that lead to syrupy reconciliations don’t make
for an intriguing enough storyline.

 

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

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