Just in time for the holidays, Vrai, Dee, and Peter take a look back at Satoshi Kon’s penultimate feature film, Tokyo Godfathers! Highlights include: Everyone missing the hell out of Kon, a deep-dive into the film’s humanizing (albeit imperfect) focus on marginalized groups, unfortunate translations, and Hana handily stealing the show.
Date Recorded: Saturday 10th December 2017
Hosts: Dee, Peter, Vrai
00:40 Tokyo Godfathers and Satoshi Kon
03:15 Experiences with Kon
13:49 Importance of family
24:05 The causes of homelessness
28:32 The assassin
43:28 Happy endings
46:35 Bad translations
53:09 Hana is good
VRAI: Hello, and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name is Vrai Kaiser. I’m an editor and contributor for Anime Feminist. You can find me on Twitter @WriterVrai or, for the other podcast I cohost, @trashpod.
PETER: And I’m Peter Fobian. I’m an associate features editor at Crunchyroll and a contributor and editor at Anime Feminist.
VRAI: This is our semi-holiday podcast, or it’ll be released in the general holiday time. And we’re talking about the Satoshi Kon film Tokyo Godfathers, which was released in 2003. It did the festival circuit in the US roughly around 2005.
It was directed by Satoshi Kon, who tragically passed away a few years ago at the age of 46 after only having completed five feature films and one TV series, Paranoia Agent. The screenplay was co-written by Keiko Nobumoto, who you may know as the creator of Wolf’s Rain, the writer of the script for Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, and the scenario supervisor for the first Kingdom Hearts game. Tokyo Godfathers is Kon’s penultimate film, and it is a remake of the 1948 John Wayne film, The Three Godfathers. It’s better than that.
DEE: I’ve never seen that, and I did not realize it was a remake.
PETER: Yeah, I never heard of that either.
DEE: I learned something new today.
VRAI: The original movie is very western-themed, because John Wayne, and also, they get the baby from a tragically dying woman who was probably a harlot. You know. So, this film is a decided improvement upon that.
The plot of Tokyo Godfathers, briefly, for any listeners who might not be aware, is it takes place in Tokyo over about a week, where three homeless people find a baby in a trash pile and decide to go on a quest to try and find the baby’s mother. It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime—
DEE: You have to have a Strike subscription, though. It’s not just on Prime.
VRAI: [sighing] Yeah. Yeah, it sucks. It sucks.
PETER: You used to be able to do it with your Prime, but they got rid of it—
VRAI: [groans deeply]
PETER: —from what I understand.
DEE: And that’s only in the US, too, because I know Amelia wanted to join us on this one and she couldn’t because it’s not available in the UK at all. So, it might be on Amazon, if you’re willing to dig through two paywalls, listeners! Yay!
VRAI: [crosstalk] [cheers sarcastically] Yeah, Satoshi Kon films are such a bummer, because you can’t get Perfect Blue anymore because Aronofsky bought the rights so he could have one shot in Requiem for a Dream, and Millennium Actress, who the fuck knows where that went, and Tokyo Godfathers didn’t get picked up by an anime company, so its license fell through. You can still get Paprika, though. [sighs]
DEE: I have the other three on my shelf, so I guess I’m doing okay in that regard. I don’t actually own Tokyo Godfathers. It’s apparently the only major Satoshi Kon film that I don’t own.
VRAI: I did mean to ask before we got started if you guys are familiar with Kon’s previous work.
PETER: Just his general filmography?
VRAI: Yeah, and his whole artistic deal, because he is one of the few directors who I think you could make a case for as auteur.
PETER: Well, I have not seen Paranoia Agent, to my shame. It’s one of my huge backlog titles that I just haven’t gotten around to yet. But I have seen all of his films. I actually think Tokyo Godfathers is one of my favorites.
As much as I love his surrealist rapid cuts and—I don’t know what to call it—temporal uncertainty with the way you’re never sure whether or not what you’re seeing is real, which is very common in his films, this one is grounded and relies on a lot of character acting and more snappy cuts and stuff. So, I definitely appreciate everything else he does, but I think this was unique in that I don’t think there’s any point in the movie where you’re not sure if what you’re seeing is real, and it all feels very grounded.
VRAI: It’s interesting to me because on the one hand, it is like, yeah, everything is happening, but it still feels very much like a Kon film because it’s a fairy tale. Like, if you took a drink every time a miraculous coincidence happened in this film, you would die.
DEE: Yeah, there’s so many Kyokos, it almost becomes a joke, the number of Kyokos they meet on this trip. So, it does have these Kon elements of existing not quite in the real world, but I do agree that it’s a lot more grounded than his other works. Which, I’ve seen everything but Millennium Actress, and Millennium Actress has been sitting on my DVD shelf for—
VRAI: [quietly] It’s so good.
DEE: —like eight years, and I’ve just not gotten… I like to watch movies with other people, and I just never get around to saying to a friend, “Hey, let’s watch Millennium Actress together.”
VRAI: Fair and legit. Fair and legit.
DEE: But I’ve seen all of his other works multiple times. So, yeah, I’m pretty familiar with Kon and his hyperrealistic art style, which is really fun to see because I don’t think you see that a lot in anime, at least the stuff that makes it to the US. His characters tend to have more realistic body types, which is fun—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yes! [groans appreciatively]
DEE: —and refreshing. And his art style is, again, I said hyperrealistic, because there’s almost a kind of grotesquery to it sometimes. Like the faces have so many creases and contortions to them, as opposed to a lot of anime, which is very smooth-skinned, idealized, pretty-looking.
VRAI: Yeah, he likes him a fisheye lens.
PETER: Yeah. And it does get into the Junji Ito-esque, where you closeup on anatomy to the point where it does become kind of gross to look at, or where normal features start distorting to the point that they become frightening.
VRAI: Yeah, the characters in this movie are very broad in some senses, but still grounded by those proportions. I’m in love with how many curvy, stocky women are in this film.
DEE: Yeah, I noticed that, too.
VRAI: It’s very good.
DEE: It’s refreshing, for sure, to see more different body types in an animated film, in general, not even just out of Japan. In general, to see that is nice.
VRAI: Yeah. Paranoia Agent is so very much about post-World War II kawaii culture and criticism of that, so I wonder if that sensibility is throughout all of his work.
DEE: I would imagine his art style is partly in response to that. I also think that his films tend to be interested in looking at some ugliness in the world and then trying to draw something beautiful or valid or worthwhile out of it, which I think you can definitely see in this film. But his art style plays into that overall tone, I think, as well.
PETER: Okay, I would say some of the most intense online arguments I’ve had are in interpreting the works of Kon, primarily Perfect Blue, whether or not it’s actually supposed to be a criticism of idol culture. But I think, given the history of his works—even Tokyo Godfathers itself is definitely putting a spotlight on some social and cultural issues in Japan—it feels very thematic for his overall work, and I don’t think you could interpret it as him not trying to do something like that, given that every single one of his works seems to be doing something like that.
VRAI: He said it’s not about that, but Romero also said that Night of the Living Dead wasn’t about racism, and uh… ‘kay.
DEE: [laughs] It could be one of those things where maybe it’s not specifically about the idol industry, but there’s definitely an element of… It’s clearly looking at the way men take ownership over women’s bodies, especially those in the public space. Does that make sense?
DEE: That’s very much a part of Perfect Blue. Sorry, this is kind of a tangent for listeners that came on expecting Tokyo Godfathers, and we’re like, “Let’s talk about all the Kon movies, because they’re good.”
VRAI: [crosstalk] I just love Satoshi… You gave me any opportunity to talk about Satoshi Kon, who I mourn the death of every day.
DEE: Yeah, watching Tokyo Godfathers made me kind of sad, because I hadn’t seen this movie in… I think I saw it in high school, and I haven’t seen it since, so rewatching it… And it’s been the first time in a little while I’ve rewatched a Kon film, and I was like, “Aw, he’s not gonna do anything more,” and it just made me miss the hell out of him.
PETER: Well, we might get one more thing.
VRAI: [crosstalk] The robot film is never gonna happen. The robot film’s never gonna happen.
PETER: I don’t know. Well, you know the person who’s trying to make it happen is Masao Maruyama, and I don’t think anyone cares about anime more than that man.
DEE: That is a good point. He’s the MAPPA studio head, Vrai, who—
PETER: And M2 now.
DEE: —pushed through… We saw In This Corner of the World.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Gotcha, gotcha.
PETER: He’s the one who’s also trying to set Satoshi Kon’s comic Opus—[unintelligible] manga there—made into a TV series. I’ll be curious to see who they get to direct that or how that is even possible given what the manga’s about.
DEE: Isn’t that unfinished? Isn’t all of Kon’s manga unfinished?
PETER: Well, I’ve only read two, which were translated into English. There was Opus and Seraphim: Some Absurd Number of Ways.
DEE: [crosstalk] I read Seraphim, and I did not know Seraphim was not finished, and I was very upset when I got to the end of that volume.
PETER: Yeah, it sucks. It was Mamoru Oshii and Kon making a manga together, which is just insane.
VRAI: But I wanted to bring us back, because you brought up the social commentary in Kon’s work. I really wanted to talk about that in this film, because it struck me as really unique that a lot of this film was about found families, and I want to get into a little bit more of the dynamics, specifically with Hana, later.
But I was really interested in the fact that Miyuki’s story is very much about the father making amends more than her, which strikes me as quite unique in anime and in parent-child reconciliation stories in general: this idea that her pain is worthwhile and she’s not just a bratty kid who should know better and who should apologize. Which, yes, that is one part of it: she did a bad.
DEE: I was gonna say, she did stab him because her cat was gone.
VRAI: [crosstalk] She did a bad! Uh-huh.
VRAI: No, that’s fucked up, but I find it interesting that she is a three-dimensional character who we are supposed to sympathize with when she talks about “I didn’t feel like my parents loved me in my house, and I ran away because of that.” It’s not meant to be histrionic and like “Oh, she just didn’t appreciate all the work her parents do for her.”
PETER: Yeah, you get the feeling that there was some sort of buildup to the cat event, too. That wasn’t like, “My cat’s gone. Oh, my dad must have sold it,” or something like that. There was obviously something going on in that household. Although they don’t have time in the movie to really explore it, they definitely imply it.
And I feel like they do a good job of showing that there was more than that singular scene to what happened between her and her family, but also that her family wanted her back and felt regretful about what had happened.
DEE: Yeah, I think… Sorry, Vrai, what were you going to say?
VRAI: Well, I’m interested in this film that’s not just “Children should value and respect their parents,” but also “Parents owe things and should value and respect their children.”
DEE: Yeah, I think that’s very true. And I think a lot of the film is about forgiveness specifically for all of the characters, in a variant: there is a sense of them wanting somebody else to forgive them for a mistake that happened in the past. So, I think it is really nice to see in this film that Miyuki feels like she did something completely unforgivable, and of course she can’t go home because she did stab her dad, which is a big deal.
VRAI: It is a big deal. Let me not downplay that.
DEE: Yeah, I don’t want to downplay the fact that she stabbed her father because her cat was gone. So, somewhat understandably, she thinks, “I did something completely unforgivable, and there’s no way I can go home.” And it turns out that despite doing a pretty terrible thing, her parents are more worried about her than angry at her. They want her to come home, and they want to make sure she’s safe.
PETER: And I think that plays into the plot of the movie with them trying to find Kyoko’s parents, just saying that the child deserves a good upbringing and deserves to be with its family, which is why they have… What was that woman’s name? Sachiko?
PETER: Highlighting how horrible what she did was by kidnapping the child, but also that the reason that she did it was because she wanted her own family. I think her child died after birth or…?
VRAI: The impression I get is that the child was stillborn.
DEE: Yeah, that is what I thought, too, was probably stillborn. I’m not sure if I know 100% what the movie is going for with this line of thought, but it’s definitely playing with the idea of the romance of blood relations and family.
It is important, but I think the film has several characters who see it as the most important thing in the world, and I think in some ways the film shows that that can be kind of destructive because Sachiko, one of the reasons she becomes so unstable at the end and ends up stealing a child is because of this desire for this blood family and “If I just have this kid, it’ll fix everything that’s wrong in my relationship with my husband.” And then you also see this found family that ends up saving the day and coming together.
I think because there is still blood relatives that we see as more positive portrayals, like Miyuki’s parents wanting her to come home and Gin’s daughter being… she wanted to see him and she wanted to re—[fumbles]—ugh. Good Lord. Give me a second. I swear I know how to talk. She wanted that relationship back in her life. So, I think the film is playing a little bit with the idea of “Both have value, and one isn’t necessarily better than the other,” because I think it balances the two very well.
VRAI: Yeah. It seems to walk this very fine line of… it wants to stress that family is very important, but where the family comes from isn’t, specifically in this element of defusing that idea that your blood family is always the most important and the best for you.
PETER: I think that comes in at the very end, because I think it’s Hana who says some line about “There’s no way a foster family can replace a real one” or something like that. I remember hearing that line, and I was like, “I don’t know about that. I mean, definitely if you’re kidnapped, but you can certainly be as happy.” But then in the end, they become Kyoko’s godparents, or the family wants them to become godparents because what they did was so important to that child.
VRAI: [crosstalk] The line, as I remember it, is that when they first get the baby, Hana talks about how a blood family isn’t always better; sometimes a foster family is better. And clearly, she found a home at the club where she was working. She calls the club owner Mom, and that’s clearly her family.
PETER: Yeah. But it was, I think, either on the bridge or on the rooftop Hana delivers the exact opposite line. But yeah, I think it’s just a way to make Sachiko feel bad because at that point, Hana thinks that she’d abandoned her child.
In the end, obviously, the parents want them to become the godparents, so I think that is the stance the movie takes at the end, which is someone who is not a blood relative can be just as important to you. And then in their relationship to each other, I’d say that they all became basically family members with one another, as well.
DEE: I wish they’d make that a little more clear in Hana’s story, because I think a lot of her story is about… She very much has this romance of the blood relatives because she never had any of her own. So, she goes on this quest to try to understand why a parent would leave their child, basically. And she has lines like what we’ve been talking about, where it’s like, “A child should be with their actual mother. That’s the most important thing.”
And then at the end, I think the film does a good job of showing why that’s not necessarily the case, but I feel like Hana’s story is a little more up in the air than Gin’s or Miyuki’s at the end, and I wish it was a little bit clearer that she would maybe go back to that club and spend more time with the family that she had there or acknowledge that that was her family and they didn’t have to be blood relatives. That made me a little sad.
VRAI: Hana’s story is interesting to me because… There’s a lot in this film that’s the melding of Eastern and Western culture, specifically with Hana. She’s a trans woman, she works in a drag club, and she is also this cultural voice. She knows The Sound of Music, and she’s read Dostoevsky, and she’s a Christian.
DEE: [crosstalk] And she writes haiku on the spot.
VRAI: Right. [laughs] And then, Hana seems to fairly earnestly believe in a Christian God, but she also goes with Miyuki to pray at the temple at New Year’s, and I just find that sort of cultural meshing really interesting in this film.
PETER: Well, that last one I don’t think is too unusual for Japanese people. I think they were a frustrating culture for Christians to try to proselytize to because they readily accepted a Christian God but continued to pray at Shinto and Buddhist temples as well. The idea of a Christian God precludes the others, but they continued to do that. That’s more of a cultural thing, but…
VRAI: No, no. I was also going to ask… I noticed while I was watching the movie that the word “homeless” is a loanword in Japanese, and I don’t know much about the history of that, but it caught my ear.
DEE: I can’t help you with that. I’m sorry.
PETER: Yep, sorry. I’m also curious. Maybe one of our commenters could elaborate, who has some knowledge of the Japanese language. That is unusual. You figure that it wouldn’t take until they had encountered the English language to already have a sufficient identifier for that sort of thing.
VRAI: I was also reminded that, oh yeah, this film has a much better scene involving borderline psychotic teenagers beating up homeless people than certain other anime that have aired this season.
PETER: Oh, I know what you’re talking about. Yeah, that scene, when it happened, I almost had a stress response because I’d completely forgotten about it and just how evil those kids seem, especially because the way that they just transition—they’re just like, “Oh, our girlfriends called. Let’s go back on a date.” And then they just immediately drop what they’re doing as if the act they were committing was in no way significant to them.
VRAI: I probably don’t know enough to comment on it, but that feels very deliberate in a film that’s very much about social stratification of what families matter and who matters. I don’t think Kon put this [scene] in just because we needed a histrionic scene about teenagers, especially after it’s so sympathetic to Miyuki. I think he’s very purposefully trying to say something about who gets valued.
PETER: Yeah. Well, apparently that’s a real thing that happens quite frequently in Tokyo.
VRAI: [hums uncomfortably] That’s fucked up.
DEE: Really. Wow. Yeah, that is messed up.
PETER: I talked to someone who lived in Tokyo for a couple of years, and they have a name for… I think they literally just call them “cleanup crews.”
PETER: Yeah. So, I think it’s a real issue in Japan. I don’t know. The movie was made how many years ago?
VRAI: [crosstalk] It was 2003.
DEE: 2003. So, 15 years ago. It’s been a while.
PETER: Maybe there’s been progress since then, but at the time, yes.
DEE: Yeah, that scene always strikes me as a little over the top, because I guess it’s very hard to imagine, but it sounds like it’s actually a problem, so… geez.
PETER: Unmitigated human cruelty?
DEE: Yeah. For fun?
PETER: Before we go off Hana, though, I did want to ask, is there ever an explanation for why she becomes homeless? Because I got that she worked in the club and then she married that guy and he died, but I never really got the transition from being married to going back out on the street rather than going back to the club. I don’t even know why Hana became homeless after that.
VRAI: The impression—
VRAI: Go on.
DEE: When she’s in the club talking to the owner, who she calls Mom—I guess I’ll just call the character Mom, which sounds a little odd…
VRAI: Yeah, Mom.
PETER: Their character’s name in the credits, I believe, is Mom.
DEE: Is Mom. When’s she’s talking to Mom, they do that flashback of Hana getting angry at a client, and the sense you get is that she was very embarrassed about attacking this dude and she felt like she couldn’t come back. She felt like they wouldn’t want her because of her temper, essentially, and then Mom basically says, “No, of course, you definitely could’ve come back. It was no big deal.”
VRAI: And, like with Miyuki, in terms of things that are a little bit implied but not touched upon, I get the sense that Hana probably couldn’t get a job as a trans woman who presents female 100% of the time, in Tokyo. She probably couldn’t get a normal salary worker job.
DEE: No, I would assume that was implied in that, as well, so the drag club job was probably one of the few places that would hire, and then she felt like she couldn’t go back. So, probably Ken was just the one working, and then when he died, then no money was coming in, functionally, and then she felt like she didn’t have anywhere she could go, and she ended up homeless because of that, was the sense I got.
PETER: Okay, that’s interesting. So, with all three of them, they have this thing about not believing that they are worthy of forgiveness for what they’ve done, and when each of them encounters the individuals who they thought would never forgive them, they’re forgiven.
VRAI: [crosstalk] I don’t wanna—
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, which—
VRAI: Oh, go ahead.
DEE: I don’t know how… I’m on the fence about how I feel about that plot point. Because I like that they avoid the more maudlin, sappy tragedies. Like when Gin’s first telling his story about how his daughter died and his wife left him, and [sighs mock-dramatically].
I like that they avoid that, but at the same time there’s a little bit of a sense that the characters are homeless because of their own misunderstandings. Does that make sense? And I think that’s a bit of a mistake, because I think a lot of homeless people really don’t have someplace to go.
So, the fact that the story plays up this “Oh no, they all actually do have homes and families, and it’s just a matter of realizing that they’re worthy of asking for forgiveness” basically—I think that’s a good storyline, I like that theme, but there’s just that one extra level of it, in terms of implications it makes towards people who are homeless, that bothers me a little bit.
VRAI: Yeah, legit. Because, like we’ve talked about, it does have these quieter implications of social critique that it doesn’t really go into too much.
DEE: Mm-hm. I think it undermines itself a little bit with the fact that every story has this forgiveness undercurrent that, again, ends up being like, “Well, if they’d just realize this thing about these people in their lives, they would have been fine.” And I like the sentiment. I like the sentiment of “Everybody has somebody who cares for them, and it’s a matter of realizing that yourself.” I think that’s a really good sentiment.
But again, I worry that it maybe leaves slightly the wrong impression that the movie wanted to make about the groups of people it was doing a very good job of humanizing that tend to be ignored or shunned or considered like “trash,” as the characters refer to themselves occasionally in the film.
VRAI: Mm-hm. That’s, by the way, one of the funniest scenes ever, the “I don’t think I’ll fit” scene. I died. It’s very, very sad, but I love… [laughs]
DEE: [crosstalk] Mm. With the trash can? Yeah, I like that. Yeah, there’s some good bursts of humor in this film.
PETER: Yeah, that was a very 2017 joke. He was way ahead of his time.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Right.
DEE: [crosstalk] Right?
DEE: I was like, “Oh, look, it’s AniTwitter.”
VRAI: [Laughs] But I did want to say one more thing about Hana, is that I end up with this fascination with her character because she’s probably one of the best depictions of trans women in anime that I can think of, period.
She’s kind of a broadly comic character in the same way that the entire cast is, and because she is situated in this heightened reality, the elements of her character that could be a little stereotypical—she wants to have a family and she’s a heterosexual trans woman, and she works in a drag club—but they feel honest, like growths of who she is as a person and where she’s come from, rather than “This is an okama stereotype. Here we go.”
So, it’s one of those things that then becomes sad, because I think she works and she’s great, but, like you talked about, that element of “Some things aren’t solved at the end of this movie, and you maybe implied some things or didn’t imply some things you didn’t mean to, Movie.” Especially with Hana. She can go back to the club and make her own friends, but that’s not going to get her housing. And her family register is probably still under her deadname. That kind of stuff. It makes me sad.
PETER: Yeah, I get the feeling that they were sort of intentionally… You get the scene where they’re sleeping at the club, and I think they had some of the workers just basically sleeping there.
So, I don’t know if this is them being lazy or maybe trying to do something intentional where it’s just like, “No, this is just how it is for people like that in Tokyo,” where all the people at the club are living in semi-homelessness—I guess is what it would be—because they need somebody like the proprietors of that club to give them a place to stay and a place to make income since they won’t be accepted in most places.
VRAI: The other big element that we haven’t touched yet on is the language scene with the Latin American characters.
DEE: Mm, yeah.
DEE: I was real concerned because I haven’t seen this film in a long time. I was like, “Whoa, a brown person in anime?” when I saw the waiter, and then he immediately shoots somebody and takes somebody hostage. I’m like, “Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh no.”
VRAI: [crosstalk] The whole scene is a roller coaster. [laughs]
DEE: It really is. Thankfully, it kind of spins it and does the same thing where… I think Kon very much doesn’t want to write perfect, idealistic characters, and I appreciate that about him, so all of his characters have flaws and aren’t going to be what you would consider “perfect representation,” if that makes sense.
But I think he’s also very focused on “Everyone has moments of sympathy or humanity,” and I think he does a good job of… once the kid gets back to his home with Miyuki, it’s basically like, “Yeah, I know. Here, take care of them. I don’t want them hurt. Help this baby.” And then they are able to bond over familial ties and some common ground, even though they don’t speak the same language.
VRAI: And even the introduction scene of “Oh God, he’s a waiter. Oh God, he’s an assassin,” he is shooting at the yakuza. [laughs]
DEE: He is. No, that is very true.
PETER: [crosstalk] Yeah, yeah. There’s no going like, “Why do you think he shot that guy?” here. You’re pretty sure it had something to do with gang stuff or that guy screwing him over personally, even though you never get a single coherent word out of the character.
DEE: Well, you do; they’re just all in Spanish. And it sounds like pretty good Spanish to my untrained ear. I could pick up a little bit of what they were saying, but I am not fluent.
VRAI: I had high school Spanish, so I have no idea. I do really like that scene with his… girlfriend?
DEE: Sister? I was guessing sister, but yeah, possibly girlfriend.
VRAI: Because she mentions briefly that they’re together, but he’s not the father of the baby. I thought I caught that.
DEE: Oh, okay.
VRAI: Yeah. As somebody who has been abroad and had that moment, it’s very true to life in that moment of “Oh, oh, oh! We both know a word! We know a shared word, and we point!” It’s really great. It’s a fantastic scene.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, it’s a nice little scene there, again, that I think does a good job of, when the character first shows up, you’re like, “Oh, cool, they’re using an immigrant character as a criminal. Great! That’s awesome.” And then it spins it and is like, “Well, there’s a lot more here, too, and here’s another community that gets ignored or pushed into the margins of society.”
So, it adds to that sense of trying to shine a light on those communities and also show the humanity present that I think a lot of people don’t necessarily see when they think of homeless people and immigrants. And this is still topical today.
VRAI: Yep! Again, 2017 anime that are perhaps about how you kids and millennials don’t appreciate the previous generation, and hey, that’s kind of fucked up. Sorry.
DEE: Are we quietly throwing shade at Inuyashiki? Is that what’s happening?
VRAI: Oh, I can do it more loudly if you’d like. [laughs]
PETER: I was picking up on that.
DEE: Because you threw shade at Inuyashiki earlier and we didn’t actually mention that’s what we were talking about. We’ve only all seen like one episode, but…
PETER: I thought you were talking about just the nationalist trends right now, but that works too.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, that’s what I was talking about.
VRAI: [crosstalk] That, too.
PETER: I’m down for either.
DEE: Yeah, that’s what I was talking about in broad strokes. But then earlier when we were talking about kids beating up homeless people, that was a plot point in Inuyashiki that was played so over-the-top that it was absurd.
VRAI: [crosstalk] It bums me out.
DEE: [crosstalk] Anyway, sorry, tangent.
VRAI: It bums me out because Kon is so good at thoughtful social critique, and it really depresses me that there is no legal way for people to watch Paranoia Agent, because hot damn, that series. Tokyo Godfathers here is a much softer, more optimistic version of a lot of his other work, but it still…
PETER: Those things are really, really funny, too. I had completely forgotten the opening conversation between Gin and Hana, where they’re talking about the Virgin Mary, [laughs] and Hana goes, “Oh, maybe it was just a gay guy who magically got pregnant.” And I was like, “Oh, man.” [laughs] Because they said it was a miracle conception, and I guess—
VRAI: [crosstalk] The “eating for two” brick joke is fucking genius!
PETER: Yeah, that was so good. And they bring that back later, too.
DEE: When the lady shows up and she’s like, “It’s a miracle!” because she sees Hana with the baby. That was so good.
VRAI: This is a very good and funny film that I watch every Christmas, and I love it a lot. I have feelings.
DEE: Aw. I didn’t know it was part of your Christmas tradition.
VRAI: It is. Yeah.
DEE: That’s nice.
VRAI: It definitely soft-pedals a few things, but it’s so nice and human and warm to people who Christmas movies normally don’t give a fuck about or try to pretty up.
VRAI: I feel like Kon’s—
DEE: Or turn it into a Very Special Episode. Yeah.
VRAI: Yeah. Yeah. I feel like Kon’s art style is integral to the fact that it wants to humanize these people, these various marginalized populations, but not sanitize, I guess is maybe a word. Not in terms of dirty, but…
DEE: Yeah, no, I think that makes sense in that they’re still messy human beings. All three of them have flaws and good points, too, so, again, it’s a look at humanizing people who tend to get dehumanized, I think, in a lot of media.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Gin’s the character that I know least what to do with, because I feel like he’s a commentary on traditional Japanese views of masculinity that I don’t really have as much of an inroad on.
DEE: I think that’s part of it. But I also think that if Hana is a trans woman and Miyuki is a teenager, and these are groups that tend to get shoved into the margins or don’t have a lot of power… Gin does have a mental illness. He has addictions, and I think that a lot of his character is nobody is dealing with the fact that he has addictions, including himself.
He spends most of the movie drunk; he’s an alcoholic. And we know he had a gambling problem, which he might still have, but he doesn’t have a lot of money necessarily, so we don’t necessarily see that, although I think he does buy a lottery ticket at one point.
VRAI: He does, and then they win the lottery at the end.
PETER: No, no, no, no, no. He got that from the dead guy. That was in the dead guy’s pouch.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Oh, that’s right.
DEE: [crosstalk] Oh, yeah, that’s right. So, that’s the connection he has to the overall story, that unwillingness to deal with or talk about mental illness, with Gin’s character.
VRAI: That’s maybe the part where the movie, when you’re talking about how it wants to be like, “These people’s problems are their own problems,” the fact that it kind of lets it lie with Gin mentioning that “I’m the one who racked up the debts. It’s not the fault of the guy who preyed on my addictions.” And then that’s where that storyline rests, which is kind of a bummer.
PETER: Gambling is so accessible in Japan that it may have been focusing on that, because it’s not like the US, where there’s certain places where it’s legal. It is everywhere. Every major city, there’s entire streets that are pachinko parlors and stuff like that. I think that may have been what it was trying to do. Personally, I don’t know.
I almost felt disappointed—because I think it had been a while for both me and Dee, and we’d forgotten a lot of stuff. I kind of liked his initial lie about why he was homeless as well, but I think that’s just more from the perspective of an American maybe, because you’re always one medical bill away from being completely ruined and out on the street.
PETER: Which resonated with me very strongly. And I also liked the idea that it may not be… Because, in that situation, what else could he have possibly done to try to save his entire life? And he still ended up out on the street, showing that maybe for some people it’s not really their fault or choice.
PETER: They just get ruined.
DEE: Yeah, I agree. I think it was one of those stories that had so many elements of typical tragedy to it that a part of me is glad that they subverted that, because I think you do run that… Again, it’s this fine line where you run the risk of the story feeling like a Very Special Episode or it feeling like, “Well, it’s his own fault that he’s here,” and I don’t think that’s the case either, because, again, I think that he had addictions that were not properly addressed and dealt with.
But I think Gin is the hardest character to sympathize with in the film, and I had to fight to remind myself that he was also dealing with his own social… How do I word this? A part of his life was also looked down upon by society at large, is, I guess, how I would say that.
PETER: Mm-hm. And he was definitely… If you owe money to the yakuza rather than some pachinko parlor, you are getting into some serious gambling, I think. Or it is horse races, right?
DEE: Yeah, I think it was racing that he was gambling on, so…
PETER: Okay, yeah. I think both stories have a different merit to them narratively, and they resonated with me in different ways. That’s why I was saying I don’t know which story I would have preferred in the end of the day, but I think both of them had their own valuable look at what can make someone end up in his situation.
DEE: Yeah, I think you’re right.
VRAI: Do we want to talk about Sachiko briefly?
PETER: Probably should.
DEE: Yeah, we should talk about Sachiko.
VRAI: She just… I don’t know. Her character… She doesn’t really have an arc, because she’s such a deliberately absent figure for so much of the film. And then, I think the movie is really interesting when she’s not around, like the gossiping housewife scene, which is very much like, “Well, we heard about this domestic abuse. None of us did anything about it, mind, but we all heard something.”
PETER: Of course.
VRAI: But then, at the end, because this is a very feel-goody movie, the only conclusion it can come to for her is “We’ll start over with my husband in this clearly toxic relationship.” No! No! No, don’t do this! No, bad!
PETER: Because before the kid, it seemed like things weren’t working out for them, so… A kid won’t fix it.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, and doesn’t Sachiko kind of reject that, too, because he shouts that from the balcony, and then she decides that she’s going to jump anyway. Doesn’t she?
VRAI and PETER: Yeah. Yeah.
PETER: So, she basically says… It was not quite “I’ll see you in hell.” It’s just like, “I’ll go first, and then we can meet together” or something like that. So, she accepts the premise, just in the afterlife rather than in the living world.
DEE: And I think, to a point, Sachiko is also part of another social group that tends to get ignored or not discussed or put in the margins, which is… First of all, she’s a woman, so there’s that. She does get married. She’s in these financial straits. The people around her are aware of the fact that it’s an unhealthy relationship that appears to have been abusive to some extent, and, again, nobody does anything about it.
And so, I think Sachiko is also in a situation where she’s trapped and she’s on the edge of “Well, if I left, I would…” You don’t get the sense that Sachiko has any other family outside of this guy, so there’s the sense that if she leaves him, then she would probably be out on the street with the rest of our protagonists.
VRAI: Yeah, and whatever the state of host clubs at large in Japan, one gets the feeling that this specific one was probably exploitative. There’s the implication that she was pushed into having plastic surgery and that kind of thing.
DEE: That’s true. There are references—
PETER: Run by yakuza.
DEE: That’s true. There are references in this movie specifically to the fact that the job she had previously was probably not a good one for her. So, I have some sympathy for her, even though she does some pretty heinous things in the film. And they don’t really… Everybody else, it feels, gets a redemption moment or a forgiveness moment, and you don’t really get that with Sachiko.
VRAI: Not really.
DEE: Shitty Boyfriend has his speech, but it doesn’t win her over. She’s not like, “Okay, I’ll come down.” And then we don’t really see her again, so we don’t really know what happened to Sachiko. There’s a lot of lack of clarity at the end of the movie as to where everyone’s going to go, so you have to draw your own lines, I guess.
VRAI: I guess her redemption moment is deciding to give Kyoko back.
PETER: Yeah, even Miyuki’s reuniting with her father, that was just like… they started the scene, and then the credits rolled. So, the end of the movie was very… It felt—I don’t want to say abrupt—but it intentionally left a lot of things just hanging off in nowhere.
VRAI: [crosstalk] I guess you could say that it’s potentially hopeful for all of them. Gin won the lottery. I kind of get the implication—
DEE: And reunited with his daughter, who seems willing to have a relationship with him again, which he had wanted.
VRAI: Right. I get the impression Hana’s going to stay with Gin, which… Girl, aim higher.
DEE: I know! I agree. [laughs]
VRAI: But at least she’s back in contact with her family at the club; and Miyuki is at least talking with her dad, so they can try to work that out; and Sachiko at least had the moment of clarity that she shouldn’t steal a baby and this isn’t going to make her happy. So, it doesn’t solve any of their social ills, but at least for these individual characters, they have a door to something ahead of them.
PETER: It’s somewhat optimistic.
DEE: Yeah, it is.
PETER: It almost feels like… They keep talking about how Kyoko’s like a miracle baby, which I think is funny because it’s sort of like there’s all these narrow aversions of disaster, but they’ve also encountered a bunch of disasters and narrowly averted them. So, it’s hard to say whether Kyoko’s good luck or bad luck and they just happen to narrowly escape that several times.
VRAI: It’s very Blues Brothers, like “We’re on a mission from God.”
PETER: So, in that context, it almost feels like Kyoko was this gift that brought everybody into this crazy situation that ended up with them reconciling parts of their past. Because of that almost supernatural drive that pushed them into that situation, you feel like the outcome’s going to be good. It has an optimistic feeling at the end, I think.
DEE: It does, definitely. And I guess it would be very out-of-character for Kon in particular to end the movie with an epilogue where it’s like, “Everybody is happy now, and things are tied into a neat bow!” And I don’t think I would necessarily like that either.
PETER: Yeah. I do want to say, in regards to the yakuza, the yakuza guys, I felt like it even tried to humanize them a little bit. Because they run into the first one, who had let his car slide over him, and then he was genuinely grateful and invited them to his wedding, or his daughter’s wedding—
DEE: [crosstalk] His daughter’s wedding, yeah.
PETER: —afterward. And he basically just said, “Join the party. Here’s some money. If you ever need a favor, call me please.” And then the son—or the son-in-law, I guess he was going to be—who was made out to be an asshole, despite the fact that he ran that club, it didn’t seem like he had made any efforts to retain Sachiko when she said she wanted to leave with her new husband, which I think is notable, and he also took the bullet for his father.
So, while there was definitely some bad stuff involved, I think it showed that they’re people too, who are capable of charity. I think Kon took deliberate steps not to demonize any of the characters.
DEE: I think that’s very true.
PETER: Even the guys who would normally be the bad guys, who probably were mostly bad, you saw their better sides, as well.
DEE: Yeah. I don’t know. Sachiko’s husband is kind of awful.
VRAI: Yeah, he’s kind of a piece of shit.
DEE: [laughs] There’s not a lot of redemption there. At the very end, he decides to make it work with her, but that doesn’t mean anything.
PETER: That’s meaningless.
DEE: Yeah, I was gonna say. Lots of shitty boyfriends and abusers say that, too, and it doesn’t mean anything.
VRAI: I got the implication that maybe she was the one physically abusing him, because that was—
DEE: Oh! You’re right, yes. He was taking all her money, but yeah, in that conversation they had, it’s implied that he was the one who had bruises, not her.
VRAI: So, this is like a mutually abusive situation that neither of them should be in!
DEE: Yeah. It’s really bad and unhealthy for both of them, so…
VRAI: It’s bad.
PETER: So, don’t get back together, please!
VRAI: Please don’t do this.
DEE: Please don’t.
VRAI: Both of you, do something else.
I also wanted to talk about the shit translation a little bit before we go.
DEE: Yeah, I figured we should touch on the subtitles. They sure made some decisions around Hana, didn’t they? They sure made some decisions.
VRAI: They sure fucking did! First of all, if you’re watching this on Amazon, not only is the old translation from 2005—I believe is when it was—still the translation, that translation is hard-coded to the video. And then Amazon’s translation can play over the top of it if you’ve turned the closed captioning on. But no, no, no, there is no turning off the subtitles on this one, which is just the most 2005 thing I’ve seen. Like, holy shit.
So, more generally for folks who don’t know, the subtitles in this movie around Hana are bad. There are a couple choices they make. Miyuki refers to Hana as obasan, “aunty,” and the subtitles translate that as “uncle” for reasons. And then, also… we’ve talked about Hana’s temper in the film, which is specifically triggered by people calling her jiji.
DEE: Well, the term they keep using is kusojiji, which literally would be like “shitty old man.”
VRAI: Right, which makes sense as her… So, her response is always like “‘Shit’ I’ll take,” but the correct translation would be like, “But ‘man’ I won’t.”
DEE: Yeah. Yeah, it’s the jiji part that pisses her off, and the subtitles decided to say, “‘Shit’ I’ll take, but…” It’s like, “Eat shit, you old fart,” I think is how they translate it. And she’s like, “‘Fart’ I won’t take.”
And it’s like, that doesn’t make any sense. The point is that she’s angry when people don’t acknowledge the gender that she is. That’s the point of that line, and losing that in the translation, I think, loses maybe part of the social commentary Kon is brushing up against in that situation, too, like, “Hey, you should respect this person’s gender identity. That would be a good idea.”
VRAI: And with Miyuki versus Gin, it feels important, too, because Miyuki calls her a kusojiji once, at the very start of the film, and then from there on calls her either obasan or Hana-san.
DEE: Yeah, she eventually switches to Hana-san. And here’s what I think what the translator was maybe trying to do, was to show Miyuki gradually accepting and developing that emotional, affectionate bond with Hana that she does develop because Hana takes care of her, which is really sweet, because they do translate Hana-san as “Miss Hana.” So, at a certain point, the subtitles do go, “Okay, so the characters are respecting Hana’s gender at this point.”
But it’s still a weird choice to me. Why not just have her go from calling her Aunty Bag to Miss Hana? That shows a shift in respect, if you do that.
VRAI: Right. It’s still a shift in respect, but it starts at the baseline of “Even this bratty teenager knows that this woman is a woman.”
DEE: Mm-hm. Exactly.
VRAI: Which feels important in contrast to Gin, who spends a lot of the movie calling Hana an okama, which is like… And boy, did the translators make some choices there!
DEE: The translators… Yeah, they translate okama in a variety of ways. And okama is a difficult word. Hana refers to herself as an okama, because it’s one of those words that in Japanese is very context-dependent on whether or not it’s… It’s not inherently a slur, I guess is what I should say. It’s kind of a complicated term.
VRAI: It… And I don’t know Japanese as well as you do, but from taking in a lot of media that uses that term prominently, the impression I get from it is that it’s one of those words that can be deprecating but can also be used by queer people as a self-deprecating thing. So something like “homo” or “fairy” or those kinds of things that are an insult, but you can also use self-referentially. So, that makes sense to me. Translating it with “faggot”?
DEE: [crosstalk; cringes] Hate that word.
VRAI: That’s not… No, don’t! Movie! What the fuck? That creates a really, really nasty sense that I don’t want to root for these people to come together as a family if they’re with those kinds of words in his mouth.
DEE: Again, okama is a difficult word, also, because the meaning and intent of it has shifted a lot over the years. There’s a big, long author’s note at the end of the first volume of Princess Jellyfish that goes into the fact that even when Higashimura first started writing that series in 2005 to now, the word’s meaning has shifted slightly. So, there’s a difficulty in finding exact, one-to-one translations for it. But I don’t think it ever really has the same vitriol as—I can’t even say it—the F-word.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yeah, the F-slur.
DEE: I will call it the F-word, and I don’t mean “fuck,” because that word I don’t mind saying. I don’t think it ever has—
PETER: That usage seems to be most similar to “queer,” right, just in the way that it’s also been sort of repossessed by the culture?
DEE: Yeah, and it’s kind of a catch-all. I think sometimes you can translate it as “crossdresser.” I think you could get away with “drag queen” in certain situations. It’s very context-dependent and, again, it sort of depends on who’s saying it. But I don’t think it ever holds the same inherent violence that the F-slur does, so the fact that they used it in that… I was like, “Gin’s being a jerk here, but he’s not being this much of a jerk.”
PETER: He was not using that word, yeah.
DEE: And it does, it makes Gin… Because I remember watching this as a kid. I liked it, but it didn’t stick with me, I think, the way it did for you, Vrai. But I remember very distinctly not liking Gin, and part of it was because of that, and I was like, “Wow, you’re a terrible person!” And a lot of that is the subtitling decision, which is not ideal.
VRAI: A real shame. And it doesn’t make sense that Hana would stay with him either. Because she blames herself, but she has that point of pride about herself, that if he were referring to her with that level of vitriol, she’d go, or beat the shit out of him, which she would… Hm.
DEE: I think you’re probably right.
PETER: Hana was one of the only ones that wasn’t regularly fighting, I think. Miyuki and Gin were always beating the shit out of each other, but Hana would just say, “Don’t hurt each other too bad.”
DEE: But she would tell Gin off when he deserved it, though.
PETER: Oh, for sure.
DEE: She told him off multiple times when he was being awful.
VRAI: [crosstalk] And it’s so good! Damn, Hana can throw shade like nobody’s business. It’s really good.
DEE: [laughs] She’s very, very good at it, yeah.
VRAI: A moment of silence for the opening scene of the movie, where Gin is a piece of shit to Miyuki, though,
and gropes her boobs.
DEE: Oh God, yeah. Between the F-slur and him grabbing her chest, I was like, “Wow, I really don’t like you!” And that feeling never quite goes away. And I think to a point, the movie is harder on him than it is on the others, because he also lies about his backstory to gain more sympathy and things like that.
VRAI: Yeah, he’s still redeemable, but he’s definitely rougher and kind of worse than either of them. And Hana is literally the hero of the movie at a certain point, where she drifts down—
DEE: [crosstalk] No, I love that when…
VRAI: Oh my God, it’s so good!
PETER: Yeah, I think Gin’s the one who needs a moment of silence, because I think Hana literally killed him in front of his own daughter.
VRAI: It’s so good!
VRAI: God, she’s the best!
DEE: And I love that she did get to be the hero at the end and save the kid. That was a really sweet moment. And then God Themself smiled down upon Hana and Kyoko and brought them to safety. That was lovely.
VRAI: [tearfully] It’s such… Oh!
PETER: You notice Hana was not at all surprised by that happening, either.
DEE: No, at that point, it’s like, “Mm, this is par for the course.”
PETER: Yeah, celestially floating down to the ground smiling serenely. That was an interesting choice.
DEE: [crosstalk] That was so good.
VRAI: It’s so nice! This movie is not perfect, but it’s so nice, and I always get kind of wibbly at the end, and it gives me feelings. I like these characters! [groans appreciatively]
Yeah, it’s a real shame about them subtitles, and I wonder how much of it is… Like I mentioned at the top, this wasn’t brought over by anybody in what we’d think of as the anime industry. It did the film circuit instead, the film festival circuit, so…
PETER: And I think in those sorts of stories, from a more Western perspective, they might expect people to be more ugly and harsh, just because of our own perception of homeless people, I think. It might have been—
VRAI: What’s up, transphobia! And classism!
PETER: Yeah, definitely. I think so.
DEE: Yeah. I don’t want to make too many assumptions about where the translator was coming from. But yeah, it is unfortunate, and it would be nice if all the Kon movies could get relicensed and maybe some updated subs here and there and then get re-released, because they’re all very good and people should have easy access to them.
PETER: Need a box set already.
VRAI: [whispering] Yes!
DEE: Get on that, Crunchyroll! [laughs]
PETER: I own like 85% of Kon’s discography, and I will give you my money again.
DEE: I would love to have his movies on blu-ray. I think that’d be lovely.
DEE: And I don’t own Tokyo Godfathers yet, and now I feel like I should, because rewatching it, I was like, “Ah, this is nice.”
VRAI: So, I’d say this is a hearty recommendation from all of us, if you can get a hold of it. I actually think, at least if you are in Region 1, DVDs are super cheap. I think they’re still printed, even.
DEE: Are they still printed? I was going to say even if they’re out of print, I think there were enough of them that you could get a hold of a copy without too much trouble, I think.
VRAI: If you vamp for a second, I can check Amazon.
VRAI: I’m very invested in people watching this film. I don’t think you understand.
DEE: Telling our audience to check it out. Yeah, I would agree with you. I think it’s not a perfect movie, but I think it does a lot of things very well. Again, it’s one of those where… It was made in 2003, and I think sometimes it’s hard to remember how much progress in certain areas and not-progress in others that societies have made since then, in terms of some of these issues.
And so the fact that Kon in 2003 was making a movie that is very human and sympathetic towards groups of people that tended to be looked down upon, I think is something worth applauding even if there are some flaws within the film itself.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Ah, yes, the DVDs are still being pressed. It looks like it’s 15 bucks for a DVD, or you can get it 12 bucks used on Amazon, which it’s well worth it. It looks like some other regions might have even gotten a blu-ray. Not us, though. We’re not special.
DEE: Aw. I thought blu-rays were region free. I may have made that up.
DEE: Okay. I don’t know how relevant this is to our podcast, but I’m glad we’re having this conversation.
PETER: We’re just wanting people to watch a very good movie, because I think it’s a blanket recommendation of anything Satoshi Kon has ever touched, created.
DEE: [laughs] That’s legit.
PETER: Yeah, yeah. And this one is probably his most real, down-to-earth, focused work that isn’t him going completely out there with crazy imagery and stuff.
DEE: It’s probably a good starter film, because it is pretty accessible in terms of the surrealism. There’s like one dream sequence and then a couple of little fun touches in terms of the animation getting kind of smeary. But overall, it’s pretty grounded.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s also one of his most universally age-appropriate, along with Millennium Actress, because his dark shit gets dark.
DEE: [crosstalk] That is a very good point. That is true. Perfect Blue and Paprika both have some content warnings tagged onto them, for sure.
VRAI: Yeah, Paranoia Agent, too. But this one, pretty much anybody can watch it. It’s real good. It’s real good, full of feelings.
Okay, thank you so much to you guys for joining me to talk about this movie. And thank you, listeners.
DEE: [crosstalk] Thanks for suggesting it.
VRAI: Yeah! Thank you, listeners, for joining us. And if you liked this podcast, you can find more of us on Patreon at patreon.com/AnimeFeminist. Every little bit does help. We really appreciate whatever little bit you can throw our way. It helps fund the website, and we really appreciate all of you.
If you liked this content, you can find more of Chatty AF on Soundcloud. You can read more of our contributors at AnimeFeminist.com, find us on Twitter at twitter.com/AnimeFeminist, on Facebook at facebook.com/AnimeFem.
DEE: The podcast is also on iTunes and Stitcher.
VRAI: That’s right.
DEE: Lots of options.
VRAI: Lots of options. If you can leave us a rating or review, that’s great. Helps people find us. Thank you so much. We’ll see you next time, AniFam.
DEE: Happy holidays!
VRAI: Happy holidays!
PETER: Happy holidays.