“The Lord Jesus was laid in a manger to bring salvation to those with no place of their own. Nothing is harder than to have no place, but many are those without one. In their solitude, they long for someone who will say ‘I want you to be here.’ Jesus was born to offer those alone a place in which to be alive!”
This sermon, spoken by a preacher at a Christmas play, is the statement that greets us as we enter Tokyo Godfathers, a 2003 film by esteemed anime director Satoshi Kon. It’s the story of three homeless people… An alcoholic, a transvestite, and a teenage runaway… As they find an abandoned baby in a dumpster, and nobly go through ordeal after ordeal in an attempt to return her to her mother. It’s a very well-received, beloved movie, but it’s most common criticism is that it relies way too heavily on coincidence. While it all has a point, it stretches the boundaries of believability more than a few times throughout it’s hour and a half run time. Coincidence is, after all, one of the laziest ways to progress a story, but… Is it really all a coincidence? Does every plot twist in the story happen completely at random? Let’s take another look.
The first time I watched this movie, I wasn’t really feeling it. It was great, but as I said before, the coincidences were taking me out of it, and I wasn’t really finding any meaning in the story. It was good, but not engaging. But then, I noticed something really strange in the background of one shot… It was almost forty minutes in, and Hana had just exited the cab to search for Miyuki and Kiyoko. While she was frantically searching through the alleys, I noticed an oddly arrayed piece of scenery… It was a giant face on a brick wall! It had two windows for eyes, a specifically shaded pipe for a nose, and a longer window down below for a mouth. The windows up top even had identical shadows in them that looked like pupils, looking directly at Hana! This intrigued me, as I know Satoshi Kon to be a highly meticulous director… Sort of like the Japanese equivalent of Stanley Kubrick. A shot this specific couldn’t possibly have been an accident.
My second watch through, less than 24 hours later, I took a closer look at the backgrounds throughout the story, and sure enough, our heroes are constantly being watched by inanimate faces in the background… They take the form of posters, statues, and even oddly placed scenery like the aforementioned alley-man. And they come at very specific times, too… In any scene where something good is about to happen to them, or in any scene where their path is about to be significantly altered, there’s a face watching them right before it. There’s a small face on the ceiling of the bus watching them right before the bus with Miyuki’s dad shows up next to it, forcing them to flee. There’s a couple of angels watching them as they hang out against the wall of a wealthy party, right before an assassination attempt takes place. There’s even a small face watching Hana and Gin as a drunk fight takes them out of a deli, right before a freaking truck crashes into it that would have killed them!
That face is difficult to spot though… It’s only on screen in one quick shot, but it’s on a sign on the counter, with four shapes on it… A circle, a triangle, a circle, in that order, and a line below. Eyes, a nose, and a mouth! And if that’s not enough, a statue of a lion is watching them right before they find all the baby supplies they need in the cemetery!
But what do these faces mean? Who’s watching them so closely? Well, the answer to that comes in the form of the second sign we see(As the first one is literally waving to the audience). After Miyuki is introduced, spitting onto random people from the roof of a relatively small building, we’re shown that she’s situated right beneath the billboard of a crying angel.
And thus, my theory; There are no coincidences in this story. God is watching them, and is controlling all of the events that unfold through a series of actual, legitimate Christmas miracles.
Odd as this idea may sound, especially when you consider the fact that Kon wasn’t a religious man, it’s an idea that’s cleverly stated throughout the entire film, especially in the beginning, when the preacher at the Christmas play unintentionally states exactly why that baby was given to our homeless heroes. Even Hana says, loudly and proudly, that God had given Kiyoko to them as a gift. This is significant because, as we learn throughout the movie, Hana is a highly intuitive character. She always picks the right direction when Gin picks the wrong one, and she was able to describe exactly what Sachiko would be doing when they found her. So, bold predictions from her can’t just be taken lightly.
And yes, I have just implied that God, or at least one of his angels, gave the baby to them. This also sounds a little weird, but it actually makes more sense than the canon story. We’re meant to believe that it was Sachiko’s husband that abandoned the baby, but that idea just doesn’t add up… First of all, he never directly owns up yo it, and Sachiko claims he did it behind her back. Therefore, there’s no proof that he took it. Hell, he seems to think she lost it. Second of all, he supposedly placed a note over the basket and left it in a dumpster, two actions that directly conflict with each other. If he wanted somebody to find that baby and raise it, he could have left it in a diner, or on somebody’s doorstep. Hell, he could have turned it in to the police, since it wasn’t him who took it. But a dumpster? Who would expect the baby to survive long enough to be rescued in a place like that?
Well, to answer that, we’re given clues early in the movie that our three vagrants have been together, in one spot, for quite a long time. This is confirmed by the book carriers that Miyuki runs into, who know Ginwell enough to stay away from him, but still know how important she is to him. Therefore, it’s obvious that they’ve formed a routine, and according to the amount of spit-drops that Miyuki has drawn, it’s also obvious that the rooftop she’s introduced on is also an important part of their routine. In other words, they’ve hung out on that rooftop more than often enough for the crying angel above them to know them very well. If anybody knows where to place the baby so that she’ll be found by these three, it would be her.
So that’s how it happened, but… Why did it happen? Why would God go to all this trouble, when he could have just arranged to have the baby taken back to her parents at the hospital? Well, it al comes back to the sermon we heard at the beginning… “Jesus was born to find those who are alone a place to be alive.” Kiyoko may not be the baby Jesus… Although the mark on her forehead is very symbolically suggestive… But they found her as a newborn on a locker key numbered 1225. In other words, newborn baby was found on the date of 12-25. She’s not Jesus in a literal sense, but in connection to the earlier message, she IS in a symbolic sense. And upon finding her, all three of our vagrants… Who would all qualify as lost souls… Are taken on a journey of redemption, that forces them to confront their pasts and reconcile with their futures.
This is the most noticeable with Gin, who is probably explored the most thoroughly out of the three. When we meet him, he’s been hiding from his past for decades. He claims that he lost his baby because he couldn’t participate in bike races anymore, when the truth is he racked up too much debt by gambling to be able to face them. On his journey, not only is he forced to confront these lies… Hell, he even winds up literally racing on a bike in order to save a baby, wrap your head around that one… but he winds up doing more good for his family than he could have imagined. He and Hana save the life of a mafia boss(while a bunch of faces on posters watch them), and it’s eventually revealed that he’s the adoptive second father of Gin’s daughter. Then, thanks to the noise that he makes while the Spanish assassin is going after the mafia boss, the daughter’s fiancé… Whom her father greatly resents… Is given the opportunity to take several bullets for him, an event that we find out he survives. So not only does he save his daughter’s new father, but he even helps them bury the hatchet that’s between them. Yeah, I know this is never confirmed, but come on… If my daughter’s fiancé dove in front of a loaded gun for me, I wouldn’t be able to trust him with her fast enough!
And on top of that, when Gin is about to give up and die like trash in the gutter, he comes across a man who’s living out that exact same fate, stemming from that exact same choice… This could be seen as a sort of ‘ghost of Christmas future’ for him, as it shows him exactly what’ll happen to him if remains stagnant and depressed the rest of his life. And the effect it has on him is immediate… We’re never told what item it was that the old man wanted Gin to dispose of, but it really doesn’t matter, as the entire point of introducing that object to the story was to show that after this encounter, Gin had recovered enough of his livelihood to get his ass kicked, go after the boys who took it, and get his ass kicked again just to get it back. Successfully, I might add. It’s no coincidence that after overcoming this challenge, he’s rescued and brought to ‘Angel Tower.’ He’s renewed his faith, if only just a little.
Taking it a bit farther, he has to get rid of the 30,000 yen he’s accumulated for his daughter in order to see his daughter… Sacrificing the thing he thinks she wants, in order to give her what she actually wants… To see him.
I won’t go into Miyuki’s development… I can’t spoil everything for you, now can I? But it’s worth mentioning that Hana is implied to have tuberculosis, and as such, she doesn’t have much longer to live. This makes her story about the Blue Demon going away all the more poignant, and it makes her maternal protection of Kiyoko all the more important. This challenge… Caring for the baby she’s always wanted, loving her, and keeping her alive long enough to be reunited with her actual parents… Is likely the final test to determine her fate in the afterlife. And considering that last scene, where she literally jumps off of a building in order to sake Kiyoko and then survives the fall in events that can ONLY be described as miraculous, it’s fair to say she passed her test.
And you can also add “Michiko didn’t wind up killing herself” to the list of miracles, as that would have certainly happened if the vagrants hadn’t picked up the baby. Yeah, she’s probably in jail, but at least she’s alive, and has a chance to recover and reform. And after the vagrants become literal Godfathers to the baby they saved, the camera pans out to the image of the lights on the hospital… Which, all together, for the image of a face with a big, happy smile on it. No, I’m dead serious, that’s exactly what happens. And the end credits show the Tokyo cityscape coming alive and dancing joyously, confirming once and for all that God is alive in this city.
So no, there are no coincidences in Tokyo Godfathers. God himself is a character in this movie, pulling it’s strings from afar, watching our heroes through the inanimate faces of the city as he performs miracle after miracle to ensure the success of their literal and spiritual journey. I have NEVER seen an anime that represented the magic of Christmas as well as this one does, and the fact that I can watch it four times in a single week without tiring of it is a sign that I may have a new favorite anime movie. Hell, let’s drop the boundary of mediums, here… Tokyo Godfathers is one of the best Christmas movies I’ve ever seen, period. It’s tightly written, thought provoking, thoroughly engaging, and even better than it’s biggest fans realize. Whether you watch it with your eyes open or closed, you owe it to yourself to enjoy the holiday season with this masterpiece.
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