So, let me admit upfront that I had some pretty high expectations from this one. For one thing, a good friend of mine from high school was always recommending Satoshi Kon’s movies to me as the best kind of mindCINECAST! and the little blurb netflix had on the dvd sleeve made it sound so much like an Almodovar movie or something but in anime! Sounded great to me.
So, did it live up to those rather tall expectations? To some extent it did. It started off really promising actually. One of the best things about the movie for me was just how immediately it was able to draw me in. I was really curious about these characters and that whole dark side of Tokyo with these homeless people who seem to have formed some sort of nebulous relationship that vaguely resembles a family was all stuff that I was really happy to get into. I sorta knew that the plot wouldn’t be super surprising. I mean, when three homeless people find an abandoned infant, you kinda know what comes next I think.
Still Satoshi Kon manages to keep this fresh and interesting. An alcoholic, a tranvestite and a runaway teenager are just such a colorful trio to be spending time with. Also, their adventures as they try to return the baby to its parents lead them to encounter a wide array of characters from various strata of society and it manages to build in some fairly interesting social commentary without making the film any less enjoyable, which I think is pretty neat. Through all this, Tokyo looks incredibly vivid and colorful. I loved how we don’t just see the bright neon lights and tall buildings that we tend to associate with Tokyo but also the dark alleyways.
What I didn’t like however was that ultimately I thought the film ends up giving all these characters these rather conventional transformative arcs. It’s bad enough that we have the overused device of an infant turning otherwise grumpy and self-centered people into tender-hearted teary-eyed saps. But that I was quite willing to buy into really. What bugged me was what I took away as the ‘message’ the movie felt compelled to deliver by the end!
See, through the first 2/3rds of the film, I had become quite attached to this ragtag family and these reasonably unconventional characters. But then the movie suddenly turns around and says that these people need to change and that this family isn’t good enough for the baby. So Miyuki is supposed to go back to being a good girl who loves her parents. Hana isn’t good enough to raise this baby? We even have Miyuki saying things like “A baby’s always better off with its real mother” . The husband/boyfriend decides to change his ways and be a good husband and a father. Ultimately, we see the baby become a part of a conventional, well-to-do family and somehow I can’t help but see that as the movie’s way of telling me that this is where the baby ultimately belongs.
So while I found a lot to like about the film, I was a little disappointed with how pat and conventional it ended up being imo. In a way, I think I’m criticizing the film just because I think it had the potential to be so much more than it ended up being but I can’t help that.
I am still very curious to check out more Satoshi Kon though, especially Paprika and Millennium Actress.