However, the same cannot be said of Tokyo Godfathers (Kon, 2003). While it may have all the usual seasonal trappings of a Christmas movie, its conclusion cannot be tied to any specific miracle. Instead, its end is reached via a convoluted and largely-unrelated series of unlikely coincidences. Any one of them could be the basis for an entire Lifetime channel special. However, in their grand summation, they create an animated masterpiece that is narratively more comparable to a screwball comedy than any of the season's usual displays of Dickensian Deus ex Machina.
Not that Tokyo Godfathers is a comedy by any means. There is more than enough pathos fit into its remarkably pithy ninety-two minute runtime, but never enough to make it feel like a serious drama. Like most truly human stories, it constantly dances upon that ephemeral tightrope dangling between hilarity and tragedy.
Its plot centers around three Tokyo vagrants: Gin, an aging alcoholic, Hana, a melodramatic trans woman, and Miyuki, a jaded, teenage runaway. One Christmas Eve, this dangerously unstable nuclear unit finds a baby mysteriously abandoned in a pile of refuse. Lacking anything better to do, the trio set out to attempt to return the child home to its birth parents. Their ensuing misadventures, quickly bifurcate, interweave and reflect upon one another, forming a frenetic, fractalized tale. However, despite its confoundingly splintered narrative, Tokyo Godfathers masterfully ties every last one of its disparate plot threads back together to tell a genuinely touching story of redemption, forgiveness, and homecoming. Still, its pacing all feels like one grand chase, on par with the best of Buster Keaton, the rising action relentlessly escalating right until the credits roll.
Tokyo Godfathers does not have a denouement, nor does it need one. To give it any specific climax would force the hub of its narrative to spin upon a specific incident, singling out one of its many coincidences, and transforming that moment into something like a miracle. This would utterly defeat what is easily the film’s greatest strength: its glorious humanity.
If there is any magic or deity guiding the actions of the movie's cast, then it stubbornly refuses to show its hand. Tokyo Godfathers protagonists may lead charmed lives. However no matter how absurd their fortunes may be, their lives assuredly remain their own. There isn't even any discernible reward to motivate their actions. As such their circumstances, their failures, and their triumphs also remain wholly their own. Their story is one that beautifully demonstrates the flawed goodwill and imperfect selflessness of which humanity is capable without any miraculous intervention. While this may not be an especially religious message, I feel it represents a sort of grace that comes closer to representing the divine than anything George Bailey ever witnessed. There are no heaven-sent Angels to aid Gin, Hana, and Miyuki on their quest, and as far as I'm concerned that only makes their journey all the more sacred.