A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Tokyo Godfathers is a 2003 anime drama (re-released with English voice dubs in 2020) in which three homeless people find a baby in a pile of garbage and try to find her parents. The three homeless people are a transgender woman, an alcoholic man, and a teenage runaway. The movie eschews the standard stereotypes of homeless characters, presenting them with a complexity rarely seen on screen. One of the homeless characters, Miss Hana, is a trans woman, and while the character at times veers toward stereotypes (sings songs in a nightclub, is prone to exaggerated theatricality), a more complete picture of the character develops over the course of the movie. A group of thugs beat up the homeless man, kicking him repeatedly and beating him with a pole. Attempted suicide occurs in two scenes, and a character is shot and killed. There's also an attempted stabbing, with some blood, and car accidents. The homeless man drinks heavily and is often shown slurring his speech, stumbling, and behaving in a belligerent manner. Occasional profanity includes "s--t," "t-ts," and homophobic slurs. Cigarette smoking is seen.
What's the story?
In TOYKO GODFATHERS, three homeless people, while searching garbage for food to eat on Christmas Eve, find a baby. Included with the baby are discarded photographs of the parents and a note asking the finder of the baby to please take care of her. Believing it to be a Christmas miracle, Miss Hana (Shakina Nayfack), a transgender woman who was once a drag queen singer in a nightclub, names her Kiyoko. At the insistence of Gin (Jon Avner), a middle-aged alcoholic man, and Miyuki (Victoria Grace), a teenage runaway, these three begin a quest to find Kiyoko's parents. As their search begins, they rescue a man trapped under his car in the snow. The man is a higher-up in the Yakuza and recognizes the picture of the child's mother and knows the club where she used to work. This begins a sequence of actions and coincidences that lead the three not only to Kiyoko's parents, but also to a reckoning of the circumstances that led to Hana, Gin, and Miyuki becoming homeless. While finding a way to reunite Kiyoko with her parents, these three must also rely on each other to repair the damaged relationships of their pasts.
Is it any good?
This is a one-of-a-kind holiday movie, but it doesn't really do it justice to call it simply a holiday movie. Yes, the story takes place during Christmas, and many of the typical themes of holiday fare make an appearance, and the movie has more than its fair share of what might be called "miracles." But that's where the similarities end. The movie displays a constant willingness to go the extra mile with character development. While most Christmas movies are content to present the homeless as a uniform group of wretches who seem to exist only to give the main characters an opportunity to learn the meaning of charity, Tokyo Godfathers cares enough to delve into the circumstances of each character. Also, considering that the movie was initially released in 2003, the role of Miss Hana, a homeless transgender woman, has considerably more depth than one might expect.
That said, there are times when Miss Hana moves dangerously close to stereotype, particularly in moments of high emotion or overwrought theatricality. As with so much anime, there are quite a few moments of overwrought melodrama, and the coincidences, fated moments, and miracles start to feel less like a theme and more of a convenience for moving the story along. There's some humor to counterbalance this, but not enough. And yet, for its faults, it's the character development of Tokyo Godfathers that ultimately makes it worthwhile.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about homelessness in movies. How are the homeless often portrayed in movies? How are the homeless represented in Tokyo Godfathers?
Do you think Miss Hana is a three-dimensional portrayal of a trans woman, or does the movie resort to stereotyping? Why?
How does the movie explore the idea of "family," and how family might be redefined by people who face problems with their biological families? How does this relate to the ways in which humanity is connected?
- In theaters: November 8, 2003
- On DVD or streaming: October 15, 2018
- Cast: Jon Avner, Shakina Nayfack, Victoria Grace
- Directors: Satoshi Kon, Shogo Furuya
- Studio: GKIDS
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 97 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: Thematic elements, violent images, language and some sexual material.
- Last updated: May 28, 2020
Our editors recommend
For kids who love anime
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
Streaming options powered by JustWatch