Tokyo Godfathers is what happens when John Ford’s sentimental 1948 Western ”3 Godfathers” is reset in modern-day Tokyo on Christmas Eve by rising Japanese postmodern anime filmmaker Satoshi Kon: John Wayne and his fellow desert bandits are replaced by a homeless alkie, a former drag queen, and a sullen teenage runaway who find an infant girl while scrounging through city trash and band together to find her parents.
With snow falling prettily and Christmas exerting an unsubtle allegorical spell, the film is heavy on messages of redemption and reconciliation. But with Kon’s clean, anti-cute 2-D style (his cool ”Millennium Actress” was released in 2002) and alert, dispassionate attention to details of nonmagical, underclass urban life, the stickiness of the premise is cut by a bracing tartness that extends to the lives of the three unorthodox babysitters in their squatters’ lair. Domestic violence, gambling debt, AIDS death, and poverty are treated with no more or less import than the behavior of average citizens riding the Tokyo subway. Like the comic strips of Ben Katchor, ”Tokyo Godfathers” artfully appreciates the beauty and humanity in junked lives and landscapes.