Three people without housing find an abandoned infant on Christmas Eve. Hana, an optimistic trans woman, doesn’t want the baby left in the foster system. After many arguments they decide to search for the child’s mother. Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers should not work as well as it does. Gallows humor and a sense of optimism mitigate the pitch-black social commentary. The dreamlike animation allows us to accept a baby who can survive every challenge. The result is a heartwarming story of a found family protecting each other when society forgets them.
Learn more in this spoiler filled recap.
Act One: Baby
Scene One: An Alley in Tokyo
(Three friends dig through a trash heap.)
MIYUKI (Surly teen girl): You stink old man.
GIN (Drunken old man): Don’t act smug. You’re as homeless as we are.
HANA (Optimistic trans woman): Hush. I’ll find you Christmas presents.
HANA: A baby in the trash? We have to find her mother.
Scene Two: The Search Begins
GIN: Is she gonna spend this whole film crying?
HANA: The baby has a photo and a key. The key opens a locker with a business card for a host club.
MIYUKI: This is turning into a video game.
MOBSTER AT CLUB: The woman in the photo used to work here.
(An assassin shoots the mobster and takes the baby hostage.)
Act Two: Side Quests
Scene Three: Rescue Mission
GIN: Why don’t we call the police?
HANA: You know damn well why. Now let’s go save that baby!
(The assassin’s girlfriend gives them the baby.)
HANA: That was super easy. Barely an inconvenience.
Scene Four: Drag Club
CLUB OWNER: What are your back stories?
HANA: My partner died and I lost my job.
GIN: I abandoned my family after I gambled away our money.
MIYUKI: My dad lost my cat. So, I stabbed him and ran away.
HANA: You win. Let’s get back to the plot.
Act Three: Mama?
Scene Five: Bridge
(Several subplots later, they find the woman in the photo.)
HANA: How could you abandon your baby!
WOMAN: I didn’t! My ex-husband took her away.
HANA: Here you go baby. We found your mama. Happy ending.
EX-HUSBAND: Lies! She stole it from the hospital when her own baby died!
GIN: So, you left it in the trash? After her!
(A car chase ensues.)
Scene Six: Rooftop
WOMAN: I’m going to jump. And I’m taking the baby with me!
MIYUKI: This film is so dark.
GIN: But funny too.
HANA: Look out!
(The Woman jumps. Miyuki catches her. Gin catches Miyuki. Hana catches the baby.)
Scene Seven: Christmas Miracles
REAL PARENTS: You found our baby! We’d like you to be the godparents.
MIYUKI: My father forgave me.
HANA: My boss says she’ll give me my old job back.
GIN: My daughter forgave me. And I won the lottery. It’s a Christmas miracle!
My first impression was… where has she been my whole life? She’s such an incredible character; a huge strong, loud, spirited, faithful, loyal and determined trans woman. Such an inspiration. So much joy and so much rage. And I was like, I’m so glad to be meeting this woman.Shakina Nayfack, Voiceover Artist, 2020 English Dub.
At first, I feared Hana would be reduced to comic relief. A clown who endures constant insults and misgendering. But it’s soon made clear that she’s the heart of the film. She drives the plot and pushes her companions to be better people. She’s a flawed character whose naïveté often puts the baby in danger. But she maintains her self-worth and a spirit of compassion. For 2003 she’s an impressively nuanced character. The 2020 remaster cast a trans actress for the new dub and added some modern perspective to the text.
The writers’ take on homelessness is a bit more simplistic. The film portrays the hostilities, both subtle and overt, that the trio receive from “civilized” society. But the fairy tale ending seems to suggest that these three chose life on the streets to escape their responsibilities. The film ends before we see if they’ll abandon each other in favor of their former working-class lives.