By Mariko McDonald | June 17, 2004

As a holdover from Asian Heritage month I decided to use my first week back as primary programmer to catch up on some anime which we’d missed over the last year. Now, to be honest, I’m not really a big anime nut. Maybe it’s that it’s too cliquey, or that there’s so much out there it’s hard to know what’s good, or it’s that my ignorance is a good defense against the obligatory Rice Kings that always try to talk to me at parties, or maybe it’s because anime reminds me of the obligatory Rice Kings that always seem to find me at parties; I’m not sure. So you’ll excuse my ignorance in relating this week’s column. However, when I do manage to catch some anime I usually quite enjoy it and this week was no exception. In fact, I may have a new favorite director.

It was by complete accident this week that I programmed a Satoshi Kon double bill. See, I knew I wanted to see both “Millennium Actress” and “Tokyo Godfathers”, but I didn’t realize that they were conceived and directed by the same person. “Millennium Actress” had been brought into our video store by my fiancé who is an avid fan of Perfect Blue, which was also directed by Kon, and I was aware that it had won a number of awards at festivals all over the world. “Tokyo Godfathers” had already been a big critical darling and I’d been anxious to see it in the theater, but it never managed to play Vancouver. So, since we had a spot in the program and I know the Peanut Gallery will gobble up anything Japanese, Anime Night was had.

It was a good turnout again with 9 people showing up despite my still being a bum and not sending the weekly reminder email. But the joke was really on me since I had to answer the question of “what’s playing tonight” for each person who walked through the door. I must have stopped answering people because once we put the first disc on and the anime trailers started playing there were several members of the Peanut Gallery commenting on the fact that “it must be Anime Night”. Unfortunately, this also set up some preconceived notions of what constitutes anime.

“Tokyo Godfathers” was first and this, probably even more than “Millennium Actress,” was a real anime oddball for most of our friends. There are no cybernetics, there is no apocalypse and there are no energy battles. This resulted in the members of the Peanut Gallery loudly commenting throughout the film that tentacles should sprout out of this person or that person should shoot fire from their fingertips. Luckily, the film was subtitled, so their talking didn’t cause me to miss out on too much of the plot.

For those of you who have not seen it, “Tokyo Godfathers” is the quite charming and, I would dare to say, heartwarming tale of a trio of street people: a middle-aged alcoholic man, an equally middle-aged transvestite and a fifteen year-old girl who discover an abandoned baby in the trash on Christmas eve and eventually decide to try to find the child’s mother and convince her to take responsibility for the child. Now I realize this sounds like the plot to a bad sitcom, but I think just by virtue of it being Japanese it manages not to get too sappy. The film does take some very dark turns as the baby leads our heroes on a tour of Tokyo, each of them reconciling their past and their reasons for being on the street as they go. However, at each of the darker turns something even stranger and more serendipitous happens, putting us back on track for a happy ending. It’s part action movie, part silly comedy and part social commentary and balances all three of these aspects very well while also introducing us to engaging characters with surprising emotional depth. The only recent North American animated features that even come close to the carefully crafted storytelling on display here are those produced by Pixar and although I love John Lasseter, even those don’t really compare because of their inability to embrace darker subjects.

Time for an intermission. Get “Millennium Actress” in part two of ENTER THE DEN OF SIN: DISNEY CAN KISS MY HALF-ASIAN ASS>>>

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