Tokyo Godfathers    2008-02-04 09:27:33 ET

I'm pretty ambivalent toward anime. I love the Hayao Miyazaki movies, and I spent most of the 90s playing Japanese RPGs, which are anime in spirit. On the other hand, I find a lot of it inaccessible or trite (or both), and the 10-year-old kids who swarm my store looking for Naruto merch bug the hell out of me. Anime flicks need to prove themselves with me.

So here I discuss "Tokyo Godfathers." Years ago a friend gave me a breathless recommendation, adding that she hates anime, but loved this movie. Life, video games, and comic books got in the way, and it's only four years later that I actually sat down and watched it. I'm sorry it took me this long.

"Tokyo Godfathers", apparently an homage/retelling of John Ford's "3 Godfathers", tells the story of three homeless people (an alcoholic, a teenage runaway, and a down-on-his-luck drag queen) who find a baby in a dumpster on Christmas Eve in Tokyo. They set out to reunite said baby with its parents, and encounter even more of the dark side of urban life than they'd already experienced.

The animation in this movie is gorgeous. I know anime is usually known for its production values, but this film is just great to look at. Even at its darkest, it is able to draw some comic relief from subtle facial expressions and minor details. And make no mistake, this movie is dark. Homelessness, drug addiction, violence, suicide, insanity, and Dickensian urban squalor are all on display here. I'm used to seeing Yakuza or eerily stylish street punks in Japanese film, but I've never seen gritty real-life awfulness like this before.

And yet there is a beautiful heart to this story. As a Christian, I could easily draw a message from the characters. An early scene involves a preacher at an outdoor Christmas pageant giving a sermon about how Jesus came to love the unloved and provide a place for those who had none. After this scene, every character is motivated by a need for love. The most horrible acts committed are done out of desperation for love, and every good deed is an act of charity. Yes, I'll admit there were some character interactions that were so touching they had me tearing up.

So "Tokyo Godfathers" gets my highest recommendation, even and especially if you don't like anime. Satoshi Kon is going on my list of favorite directors.

1 comment

 In which John begins a new undertaking    2008-02-03 01:02:32 ET

I've had some friends tell me I need to write movie reviews. I'm lazy, but I need to practice writing, so hear goes. I begin, rather inauspiciously, with "The Return of Rin Tin Tin."

First off, I watched the Alpha Home International DVD release, which might well be the only one on the market. I'm not familiar with the other material the good folks at AHI have put out, but I have to say I'm not impressed. The colors are so blurry and bleached as to be borderline unwatchable. The sound quality ranges from "muffled by cheesecloth" to "recorded underwater." Also the company has a watermark in the bottom left corner of the picture for the first five minutes of the movie. My dad once told me that the best way to avoid having your car stolen is to drive a car that's not worth stealing. Based on this logic, I can say AHI's fear of DVD piracy is completely unfounded.

So what about the movie? Well, it concerns a young Robert Blake (yes, really) as a boy from unspecified (but war-torn) foreign lands who hates people but loves Rin Tin Tin. Rin's original owner comes back for him, and problems arise. The movie's opening credits tell us this was filmed in "beautiful Santa Barbara," but thanks to AHI's abysmal remastering job, it could easily have been the Yukon (but enough technical complaints.)

I suppose the movie more or less meets the standard criteria of a "boy and his dog" movie, but just barely. There's nothing particularly interesting about it, and none of the characters come off as particularly interesting and likable. Perhaps it's a little nitpicky, but it annoyed me to no end that they never actually told us Little Foreign Boy's country of origin, nor did they even give him an accent. Presumably it's somewhere in Europe, but a little exposition wouldn't have hurt.

What really kills this movie is that it's basically an inverse of "Lassie Come Home," which was a much more entertaining movie with a much better cast. And really, considering that this movie stars the SECOND most famous movie dog, it all comes off as a little embarassing. The villainous Previous Owner (boo!) is far too mustache-twirlingly nasty to be interesting, thus watering down the story from the Lassie movie.

I also call foul on the basic hypocrisy behind this movie. Champion dog breeder loses dog, heartbroken kid gets dog, drama happens, dog breeder gives dog to kid. (I doubt anyone cares that I spoiled the ending.) Now really, let's apply this situation to real life. Let's say that the real life Rin Tin Tin III somehow got away from his owners/trainers and took up with some real life 1947-era lonely kid. There's no way in hell that story would have a happy ending for the kid. So, at its most basic level, the movie is dishonest. Yeah, it's not something I should lose sleep over, but it annoys me none the less.

So "Return of Rin Tin Tin" - not very good.

 How am I doing?    2008-01-07 15:07:45 ET
Very poisonous today. Don't touch me.

 Happy new year    2008-01-01 06:45:30 ET
So, if I've figured correctly, my cat is 18 today. I'm going to take him out to buy cigarettes and porn.
1 comment

 A Child's Christmas in Space    2007-12-24 17:41:04 ET
Tom: It’s quiet in the cold of our own little orbit, starless and Bible black. And as I look down on the big blue bean we would call home I think it so near, yet … oh, I wish on that star and I hope that in a little snow-covered house with a warm hearth and a loving family, maybe some kid is looking up tonight and wishing upon us. Oh, and how I hope sweet Santa will fly by tonight, because if he does I’m gonna reach right out and hug that big guy. Oh, for the sound of hooves against the steel hull of the ship. Oh, to see the rosy face of Santa in the porthole, offering me a Coke and a smile … (gradually becoming upset) … of course, his cheeks would be rosy because it’s a vacuum out there! I mean, Santa’s heart would explode! (becoming hysterical) But he wouldn’t feel it because the capillaries in his brain would pop like little firecrackers (Joel tries to calm him down) due to the blood boiling away in his face like pudding in a copper…OH THE HUMANITY!! (Now both Joel and Crow are trying to calm him down.) And his jolly old belly would start bubbling like a roasted marshmallow, eyes bulging and popping out … AND THE REINDEER — OH THE REINDEER!!! — keep floating like holiday floats and in turn exploding in a hail of blood and entrails! Prancer — BOOM! Dancer — BOOM! …
Joel: HEY!
Crow: Tom!
Joel: Tom, take it easy! Santa’s gonna be okay, buddy.
Tom: You sure?
Joel: Yeah, give him a little credit, okay?
Tom: Phew, what a relief!

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