Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Friday Film Review

Friday Film Review: Tokyo Godfathers

Friday Film Review: Tokyo Godfathers

Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Genre: Anime Dramedy

Grade: B+

Looking for a Christmas themed movie that’s not gushy or overly sentimental? Or do you like anime? Then check this one out. Three homeless people, an abandoned baby and it’s Christmas in Tokyo. Ho, ho, ho.

Gin – a middle aged man who takes refuge in drink, Hana – a former drag queen (I was surprised that in Japanese the term “drag queen” is exactly the same) with delusions of motherhood and Miyuki – a tough, usually sullen runaway teenager hang together on the streets and back byways of Tokyo. It’s not easy being homeless (another term that’s been adapted “as is”) anywhere. Taking advantage of a sermon/supper/Christmas church performance, they finally get a hot meal one evening which just happens to be Christmas Eve. Afterwards, they head out to check through the trash near where they’ve fashioned a place to stay and hear the sound of an infant crying. Tracking down the noise to the source, they discover a newborn girl, wrapped in blankets with a note asking for someone to take care of her.

Hana is ecstatic as he’s always wanted to be a mother. He immediately names the child “Kiyoko” since she’s pure and has come to them like an angel. First Gin and then Miyuki argue with Hana that they can’t keep the child. They live on the streets, have no access to formula and anyone hearing a baby crying on the street will investigate thus getting them into trouble. But Hana will listen to none of it. Kiyoko is a gift from God and he’s not turning her over to parents who abandoned her. It’s here that we begin to be given glimpses of the three main characters’ past lives. Hana appears to know a lot about living in foster care and is determined this child won’t suffer that fate. Gin talks about how his daughter died from an illness and he abandoned his wife due to the stress. Miyuki sees someone on a passing train who causes her to bolt.

Reluctantly, Gin and Miyuki fall into step and start to look after Kiyoko, shoplifting some baby formula and taking turns holding her. The discovery of a locker key in the blankets leads them to find a suitcase with more information about the parents and they head off to a Tokyo nightclub where they think the mother worked. There’s a mafioso wedding going on which leads to an assassination attempt after which the gunman takes Miyuki and the baby hostage. He flees the scene with them but Gin and Hana are hot on the trail. Or are until Gin gets discouraged and begins to drink causing Hana to abandon him and search alone.

Gin gets an idea of what his life might become when he runs across an elderly, dying, homeless man. Then faces off, and gets the worst of, a bunch of young thugs who beat him almost senseless. Meanwhile, Hana calls the cab company that the shooter used in the getaway and gets the same cab to respond to where he is and then let him out where the shooter left it with the hostages. There he discovers not only Gin, who’s been taken in by the residents of a gay nightclub but also Kiyoko and Miyuki who were with a Spanish speaking mother who nursed the baby. At this point the assassination subplot completely disappears.

Hana used to work at this club and gleefully catches up with the people there, discovering that the fight he was in with a patron there, that he imagines would bare him from working there again, was smoothed over ages ago. But a TV broadcast that talks about the baby lists her as abducted from a hospital and even Hana finally admits that she must be returned so off they go again.

It’s then that I kind of lose track of the plot a little. The three end up where the parents of the child lived only to discover the house is literally pulled down and the neighbors have no idea where they’ve gone. Eventually Gin finds the father who has abandoned both his wife and the baby. Then Hana falls sick and while in the hospital, Gin meets someone from his past who seems willing to forgive him. Meanwhile Miyuki is shown holding part of a classified ad that tells her all is well at home and begs her to come back.

Are we finished yet? Oh, no there are still a few things left that our intrepid band go through before Kiyoko is reunited with her desperate parents who then name Hana, Gin and Miyuki as her godfathers (or godfathers plus godmother). The last part goes off the rails and slightly out of control but then ’tis the season of miracles and miraculous saves.

In a way, the film is a little bit like “A Christmas Carol” in that the characters think about their pasts, discover events of the present and get glimpses of possible futures. Toss in a touch of “3 Godfathers” as well. It’s definitely not a happy, happy movie filled with schmaltzy joy. It is a fine film of redemption, putting the needs of others over your own and getting a shot at second chances. Kiyoko might start out as an annoyance to Gin and Miyuki but as the film progresses, they become like Hana in feeling that they’ll do anything for her. She is innocence and purity and truly a gift to them from God. She makes them want to be better people.

There are some things I’m not sure about. The whole subplot of the Spanish speakers who are described as foreigners, one of whom shoots the crime syndicate boss, left me bewildered. Maybe it wasn’t explained much because it was only a mechanism to advance the plot as needed or perhaps I lack the relevant cultural knowledge to make sense of it. And the final climax of the action sequence has always stuck me as going one event too far. Oh, well…

The humor ranges from subtle to slapstick and is inter cut with the drama of Gin, Hana and Miyuki’s lives. They are not perfect people. They’ve all made mistakes yet their hearts end up being in the right place. The film ends with each of them meeting up with people who love and care for them. There are no stated happy endings but there are possible positive endings for all three.

If you’re tired of watching the standard Christmas offerings or the sugar overload from some of them, look into “Tokyo Godfathers” for a refreshing change of pace. B+


Friday Film Review: Die Hard

Friday Film Review: Die Hard

Die Hard (1988)

Genre: Action Adventure

Grade: B+

Three years ago I did a group review of some of my favorite Christmas movies. A number of you listed your own holiday standbys and for many of you “Die Hard” seems to top the list. When I was thinking about what movies to review this year, I wondered if I’d have enough to fill out the month of December. Turns out I’ve got too many and here’s the second one for this year – a day before December but what the heck. Yippee – kai – yay, motherf*ckers.

NYPD Officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) is traveling to LA in the hope of reconciling with his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). He arrives as her employer is throwing the company Christmas party in the as yet unfinished Nakatomi Plaza Building. As the party continues, John and Holly argue about the state of their marriage before Holly is called out of her office to give rousing speech to the troops. It’s then that a group of European terrorists headed by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) take over the almost empty building with surgical precision and ruthless efficiency. Their goal is the hundreds of millions of dollars in company bonds locked in an insanely hard to crack safe.

Mistakenly thinking they have either killed or captured everyone in the building, the terrorists are stunned to discover that there’s a lone wolf on the loose. Things turn personal when the first terrorist John tangles with and kills turns out to be the brother of Karl (Alexander Gudonev), one of the most coldblooded of the original twelve. Knowing he can’t take them out by himself, John desperately tries to get first the LAFD and then the LAPD involved in what’s going on. Though it takes a dramatic “welcome to the party, pal” event to get his attention, Sgt Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) is soon on John’s side and with him in fighting against the Idiots in Charge (aka the rest of the LAPD and later the FBI). As John’s cat-and-mouse-with-firearms game with Hans & Co continues, can he thwart the terrorists, elude the authorities and manage to save the lives of the 30 hostages?

It takes about 20 minutes to set up the story and kick things off but once the 23 minute mark is past, “Die Hard” is off to the races and unstoppable. When we see John carrying his sidearm on the plane trip to LA or listen to the chauffeur who picks him up at the airport going on about how the limo has VHS!, it’s also clear that this is a 24 year old movie. The shoulder pads Holly and the other women wear are a dead (oooh, forgive the pun) giveaway as well. I wonder how much an airline today would charge John in carry on fees for the giant stuffed bear? Still, it’s aged fairly well considering the number of sequels and “Die Hard on a _____” ripoffs that it spawned. I think the decision to make the whole thing about nothing but greed instead of politics is perfect as it allows the viewer to sit back and enjoy the show instead of being caught up in any issues or on any sides.

First trivia question – How much did a gallon of gasoline cost according to the prices listed at a gas station in one shot of the movie?

John and Hans are two well matched adversaries who can both toss out witty one liners – thus establishing their coolness – under pressure. Willis creates in John McClane an American Everyman whom people can identify with. He’s actually the antagonist of the film in that he has to fight against the establishment as well as the terrorists. His battle with the morons of the LAPD and the cowboys of the FBI (“It’s just like Saigon!”) can be seen as our daily struggle against the clowns in charge of … whatever. We know we’re right. We can’t dump a terrorist body on the hood of a squad car to get our point across but we know those in command usually don’t have a clue. McClane is Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger, and our last hope even though he can make mistakes and isn’t perfect. But he’s going to fight to the end and kick ass trying.

Alan Rickman can play such a wonderful villain. From what I’ve read, his spoken German may be mangled but he’s menacing in a debonair, intellectual way all the same. McClane is the irreverent smart ass while Gruber is a smooth, civil, amoral bastard. You just can’t help but get a little frustrated along with him when his ever decreasing band of Euro trash henchmen – they’re Fabios with automatic weapons! – can’t seem to kill McClane. Yet, he’s got charm which keeps me from loathing him all through the film. He’s smart and interesting. Still when his time comes, it’s great. Even though he and his long haired bad boys might be there to steal over $600 million, the look on his face when he goes down —> priceless! Of course if he hadn’t stopped, in this case to laugh instead of the usual villain monologuing, it all might have ended differently.

Second trivia question – what is the name of the candy bar that one of the terrorists debates about before finally stealing and eating it?

The people in charge of the movie do a great job balancing the action with the humor. The DVD I watched has two interesting commentary tracks – a vocal one and a text one that has a wide range of the people involved in the film both in front of and behind the camera. Director John McTiernan says that the movie has faced the type of scorn that we’re used to receiving as romance readers. Oh, it’s *that* type of movie. But he managed to convert some “I only watch depressing European indie films” friends, getting them to watch it and admit that it’s a well thought out thriller that doesn’t cheat as it delivers its yowza. Does the movie totally manipulate us and our emotions? Sure it does. Does it fall off the knife blade of believability? Watch the bit with the fire hose and make your own decision. But it delivers what it promises and is a hell of a ride. I’m a convert now!

Third trivia question – what item found in any US post office ends up allowing John to trick and beat Hans Gruber?