Today’s first entry marks the beginning of the second half of this here blogathon! Starting the day is a regular in my blogathons. If you are looking for a unique blog, look no further than SG and Rhyme and Reason. SG combines his love of poetry and movies to create interesting and one-of-a-kind posts. I highly recommend giving his site a visit. For this year’s Christmas in July Blogathon, SG is comparing two films: 3 Godfathers, a John Wayne western, and Tokyo Godfathers, an early 2000s anime. Let’s get to it!
Life can embitter you
As you permit her to;
Always and never you’re in her control.
And as her aggressions
Leave deeper impressions,
We’re quick to forget that we each have a soul.
So often confronted
By cynics and hunted
By worries we parry were never our fault,
We grow disenchanted,
Breaths taken for granted…
Until we recall such is not our default.
Some innocent virtue,
A love that won’t hurt you
Can work wonders on a soul starved for such things,
And maybe awaken
Faith formerly shaken
That sees goodness in the unseen angel’s wings.
MPAA rating for 3 Godfathers: Passed (PG is fine)
MPAA rating for Tokyo Godfathers: PG-13 (for subject matter and some nudity with breastfeeding)
I’m thrilled to be back for Drew’s Christmas in July Blogathon. For my entry last year, I made up a list of non-obvious Christmas movies, and I added 3 Godfathers and Tokyo Godfathers as runners-up, despite knowing them only by reputation. Now that I’ve watched both, they seemed perfect for one of my Cartoon Comparison posts, as well as for Christmas in July. Both movies are about a trio of unlikely “godparents” stumbling upon a needy baby and protecting the infant around Christmastime, except 3 Godfathers is a John Wayne western and Tokyo Godfathers an anime film.
Let’s start with the first film, 1948’s 3 Godfathers, which isn’t quite as outwardly Christmas-y as its animated counterpart. The setting is all sun-stark Arizona desert (some of it evidently shot in Death Valley), but there are several mentions of Christmas approaching and some clear yuletide themes. John Wayne plays the head of his small posse, which includes Harry Carey, Jr. and Pedro Armendáriz (who was apparently a famous Mexican actor and ought to be better remembered), who together ride into the town of Welcome, become acquainted with the town sheriff, and then rob the bank. They escape with the lawmen in hot pursuit, but as they come to terms with their desperate lack of water, they discover a covered wagon where a dying mother is about to give birth. Once the trio is alone with the baby, the seemingly hardened outlaws do their utmost to protect their new godson.
I’m by no means well-versed in John Wayne or John Ford’s body of work, but I’d consider 3 Godfathers one of their best, the main weakness being a few too many scenes of monotonous walking across the desert. Its characters aren’t as iconic as in True Grit, and its scope isn’t as epic as The Searchers, but its story is strong in its simplicity and eventual sweetness. (Ford had already made an earlier silent version called Marked Men in 1919 with the senior Harry Carey, to whom 3 Godfathers is dedicated and who was also in a 1916 version based on a novel. Oh, and there was also a 1936 version with Walter Brennan, so this story has seen some mileage.)
It may seem odd that three outlaws would care enough to protect a baby with their lives, but it’s a reminder of how different times were when honor could be found even among thieves. The bank robbers aren’t cutthroat psychos, though there’s no hint as to why they committed the crime, and finding the mother and child reveals a different side of them, one of tenderness, panic, and humor that is to be expected with three men and a baby, one scene of which is bound to make your inner parent cringe. As for the Christmas connection, Harry Carey, Jr.’s discovery of a Bible allows him to make an overt comparison between them and the three wise men, and that Bible’s later significance seems to reinforce the reality of Christmas miracles. The ending may border on schmaltzy, but when has that ever been unwelcome around Christmastime?
So what about its anime counterpart Tokyo Godfathers, which must have drawn inspiration from the western based on its storyline and similar title? There are still three outcasts of society who discover a baby, but instead of bank robbers, they’re homeless people: a bearded grump named Gin, a homosexual ex-drag queen named Hana, and a teenage runaway named Miyuki. When they find the baby girl in the trash, Hana names her Kiyoko and sees her as a gift from God and a chance to be a mother, but the trio eventually decides to find the girl’s mother, which is easier said than done in a city as large as Tokyo.
Tokyo Godfathers was directed and co-written by Satoshi Kon, who was known for mind-bending stories of reality merging with fiction. (Paprika is often cited as his best work, but I prefer Millennium Actress or, well, Tokyo Godfathers.) Like his other films, this animated story is clearly not meant for kids, but it is unusual among his work because of how comparatively straightforward it is. There are no time-jumping flashbacks or trippy hallucinations to bewilder the audience, making it easily his most accessible film, but there are still plenty of twists and turns to the story.
In trying to think of how to classify Tokyo Godfathers in style, the best I can come up with is “grotesque magical realism.” The outstanding animation presents the poverty-stricken world of the characters in gritty detail, with some grotesque exaggerations in the faces especially (missing teeth, very expressive mouths and eyes), which also add to the tale’s unexpected charm. The “magical” part stems from the abundance of supposed coincidences the trio encounter, whether it be unexpected run-ins with their past or instances of extreme luck, which are often credited to God’s providence. (At one point, Hana is upset to be kicked out of a store, only for a van to crash into it moments afterward.)
As for its Christmasy-ness, Tokyo Godfathers certainly looks the part, full of snowy cityscapes and a few actual holiday trappings, even beginning with a nativity play and ending with a weird Japanese version of “Ode to Joy.” Beyond that, though, there are subtle themes of family and love for our fellow man. Noticing some strangers’ disapproving glance at them, Hana asks “I wonder how we look to them?” to which Gin replies, “Like a bum, a homo, a runaway, and a foundling.” Indeed that’s all anyone might see from the outside, but the film reveals that each of them has a story worth telling and traumas to overcome. I might not agree with the characters’ life choices, and they’re often berated for their past mistakes, but their desire for a family and belonging is no less real. Despite the constant bickering between the three, they form a dysfunctional, sometimes very funny surrogate family and, like the bank robbers of 3 Godfathers, pour their efforts into protecting their own blessing from God.
Neither 3 Godfathers nor Tokyo Godfathers are likely to be high on anyone’s Christmas movie watch list, but they make for a unique and worthwhile double feature. Both films show how even the rough-and-tumble outliers of society can devote themselves to an innocent life, and both impart some latent yuletide inspiration, even religiosity in spots, sharing a providential deus ex machina in the climax. Whether you prefer westerns or animation, don’t forget about this story come Christmas.
Best line from 3 Godfathers:
(Robert, using only the baby’s first name) “little Robert…”
(William) “Robert William…”
(Pedro) “Robert William Pedro….”
Best line from Tokyo Godfathers:
(Gin) “Even a good-for-nothing father never forgets a child.”
(Miyuki, getting up and deciding to phone her father) “I’m going out.”
(Gin) “What’s the matter with her?”
(Hana) “A child never forgets its parents.”
Rank for 3 Godfathers: List Runner-Up
Rank for Tokyo Godfathers: List Runner-Up
© 2018 S.G. Liput
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And as for my special guest, I wouldn’t mind meeting Emily VanCamp under the mistletoe. It can’t be easy for Captain America to love someone after Peggy Carter, but I think he made a good choice. 😉
Ever since I was introduced to Emily VanCamp in the television series Revenge, I have been a fan of hers. Thanks for inviting her to the party, SG!
Up next is probably the biggest Christmas fan of the entire blogathon. Stop by later to see who it is.
Until next time, cheers!