12 Days of Christmas Anime: Tokyo Godfathers

Day 7: Love

I want to start this anime post by referencing a non-animated movie I recently watched. About a month ago, my husband and I saw Breakthrough, a Christian film based on the real-life events of a boy who survived a drowning by a miracle alone. This movie struck a very personal and deep chord with me due to my recent past. On June 8, 2018, at just after 3 am, I received a call that changed my family’s life. One of my sisters had been hit head-on in a car crash and was not expected to live through the night. With no explanation by the doctors, by prayer and a miracle, she is alive and with us today. She has lifelong damage and disabilities, but she is alive, and that is more than my family was told to expect. This will be the second Christmas we almost spent without her. Naturally, now that the reality has sunk in better than it had last year, this topic is fresh in my mind. I am so thankful every day that she is still with us.

So how does what happened to my sister, and the similar story presented in Breakthrough, relate to Christmas and Tokyo Godfathers, an anime movie about three homeless people searching for the parents of an abandoned baby? Well, pretty well actually. (Some plot spoilers for the film ahead.)

One key line from Breakthrough is the mother’s reminders to her son that “You have a purpose and you are loved.” The mother chooses these words to keep building her son up and pushing him to fight for his life. During Christmas and New Year’s, these words are so fitting as we wrap up the year and move into a new one. These are words I wish I could have clung to during my sister’s time in crisis. I wish I could have sat in the hospital and reminded myself that “She has a purpose and she is loved.” Not just loved by us, as her family, but loved infinitely more so by the God who was holding her in His hand. She was not supposed to survive, but thank God, He still has a purpose for her, and she is so loved.

Tokyo Godfathers opens with a scene at a church packed with people, with a children’s choir and a sermon. Many of those people seem to be there simply to line up for free food at the end. Despite the subtle knocks at Christianity, the movie has an ironically Christian theme throughout. The film focuses on a baby that brings love and purpose to a group who is otherwise without it. Hana calls the baby Kiyoko, a Christmas present from God. I find that fitting, as that’s what Christ was to us!

Tokyo Godfathers - Opening sermon snippet

The three homeless characters presented in Tokyo Godfathers are an interesting group. Gin lost his family and life due to addiction to gambling and alcohol. Hana is a transgender woman. Miyuki is a teen and a runaway by choice, having fled after stabbing her father over a misunderstanding. They are outcasts of society, which we see repeatedly in the film. On the bus, people scowl and cover their faces, complaining of their smell. In a corner store, the owner asks them to leave. A group of teens conducting a “clean up” nearly beat Gin to death in a park. Despite this, something about the baby they find abandoned in the garbage emboldens them to journey to find her mother. Kiyoko, as they named her, brought them a purpose and love.

Gin represents probably the closest representation of what one typically pictures as a homeless person, a rough guy who’s living on the streets because of addictions. His anger and shame pushed him to reject and lie about everything that mattered to him. Gin considers himself “walking trash.” He even lies to his best friends because of shame, and states that his wife and daughter died. They are alive, but he couldn’t face them, so he left for a life of homelessness. Oddly enough, through Kiyoko, he finds himself meeting his grown-up daughter and reconnecting. This is enough to provide him some hope and love again. He starts the new year with a phone number for his daughter, who asks him to call sometimes.

Hana wants desperately to love and be loved. She reveals that she never knew her mother and had almost always lived on the street, at one point mentioning she’s always wanted a husband and a baby. Even if the husband wasn’t great, Hana says she would be happy if she had the baby to love and look after. Naturally, having Kiyoko come into her life reawakens that desire, and giving her up was very hard. However, the need to look after Kiyoko drove her back to a place she had run from in shame (much like Gin) due to some of her past actions. She found open arms and an offer to return, rather than the anger she was expecting.

Tokyo Godfathers - Miyuki's confession

Miyuki is a homeless person who, in reality, has a home, but she chooses to run from it. Why? She stabbed her father over a misunderstanding—she thought he got rid of her cat—and then ran away. She cannot handle the guilt she feels over what she has done, and it eats her up inside. Despite that, she still misses her parents and wants them to be a happy family. After seeing an ad her father put in the paper, telling her the cat came home, she knew she was welcome back. However, Miyuki still could not gather the courage to follow through with a phone call to return home. Kiyoko yet again pulls through, reconnecting Miyuki with her father, and we can see the joy as he realizes she’s safe.

In a way, we’re not all different from the homeless trio that the film presents. They’re lives are likely harder, much harder, than ours, but we, too, have our struggles. We all deal with shame as well. Saved or unsaved, shame can drive us all away from God (and family or friends). Our mistakes can pile up and make us feel like “walking trash.” We may worry that if other people knew the truth about us, the things we think and the things we’ve done, they’d turn their noses away from our “stink,” or politely excuse us out of their social circle like the owner asking the trio to leave his store. Shame can make us feel like we are homeless, aimless, and unloved. We can’t do anything right. We’re just wasting space, so what’s the point?

Well, a long time ago, a baby was born who is a fantastic reminder that we all have a purpose and we all are loved. God sent His son, Jesus, to die for our sins. Kiyoko helped Gin, Hana, and Miyuki find love and a purpose. God sent Jesus so we could be part of His family, find our purpose in Him, and experience His everlasting love. As we come to a season of reflecting on Jesus’ birth and entering a new year, treat yourself as someone who is loved and who has a purpose. Treat those around you as people who God has said are loved and have a purpose.

Tokyo Godfathers - Gin, on children

At one point during the film, Gin says,“A child’s the only thing you hold dearer than life itself.” For God to give up His child, Jesus, to save us, how precious does that make us? So, so very precious. Let the holiday season bring you closer to people with love and kindness, that we could be brought together over a baby, just like in the film. Maybe this season you’re doing great and you feel like you belong. Despite being surrounded by Christmas cheer, maybe you’re struggling and feeling “homeless”, aimless, or unloved. God exists. He formed you in the womb. God tells you in the Bible that you have a purpose and you are loved. Meditate on that this Christmas. Start the new year keeping those words in mind.

No matter the shame you may be facing, God is just a “call” away, like how Gin’s daughter was a call away. God will welcome you (back) with open arms, no matter what you did, like how Hana was welcomed back openly. Even if you’ve hurt God, He just wants you to come back and let Him love you, like how Miyuki’s dad just wanted her home safe. Kiyoko may have been “God’s Christmas present” to Gin, Hana, and Miyuki, but Jesus was God’s “Christmas present” to us all. No matter who you are, Christmas is for you. Why? You have a purpose and you are loved.

Editor’s Note: This wonderful post is Emma’s final one with us. After many years of writing and particularly of doing all the difficult back-end work as our webmaster, Emma is moving on to other things, but you’ll continue to see her on Twitter and in her role at the Geeks Under Grace Facebook group. Thank you, Emma, for contributions to our ministry these many years!

Tokyo Godfathers is available to stream or purchase, though you may want to hold tight as GKIDS just announced their acquirement of the film and intentions to put out a version in 4K. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the Christmas episode of Laid-Back Camp, which you can stream through Crunchyroll (or read via manga).

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