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Tokyo Godfathers

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Just in time for Easter comes this magical animated Christmas movie from Satoshi Kon (Millennium Actress). The film opens in the shadowy world of the down and out, during a snowy Yuletide season in Tokyo where three homeless rejects are enduring sermons so that they might get some food.

It's a tough trio. There's Miyuki, a preteen runaway. There's also Gin, an embittered, middle-aged alcoholic who says he's a disgraced bicycle racer. Finally, and most memorably, there's Hana, a tubercular transvestite whose one great wish is to have a child. ("What if a miracle like a baby being born to the Virgin Mary were to happen to a homo?" she asks a soup kitchen worker. "Better give me a little extra, because I'm eating for two.")

One quarrelsome night in an alleyway, the three outsiders discover an abandoned baby. Christening the miraculous infant Kiyoko, this ragtag, jerry-rigged family sets out to locate the baby's mother, a quest that turns into a dangerous journey through rival criminal syndicates and a series of confrontations with the ghosts of their pasts.

If this plot sounds familiar, it's not an accident. John Ford's Three Godfathers, released in 1948, concerned a similar challenge posed to three cowboys led by John Wayne. In Kon's hands, however, the plot is a device to explore the great chain of human connections. Although there are more coincidences and chance encounters here than in a Dickens novel, our interest and willingness to believe never flag. Rich with humor and enlivened with haikus and storybook devices, the animation is constantly surprising without ever losing an extraordinarily rich humanism.

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