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  • Ravi Swami

"Summit of The Gods" & "Tokyo Godfathers", Dir: Patrick Imbert, 2021, Dir: Satoshi Kon, 2003

Two films that fall under the blanket term of being "Anime", one French and the other Japanese, though besides the term ("Anime" possibly derives from the French word "anime"), they have in common a particular graphic style that stems from graphic novel and comic traditions popular in both countries and that is very suited to a "realistic" style of animation - "ligne claire" in France, and a style derived from Japanese graphic traditions such as woodblock illustration.

However, both films started life as "Manga" publications before being adapted into feature length animated films.

At first glance I didn't think I'd be interested in "Summit Of The Gods" - the idea of a film about mountain climbing seemed an odd choice for animation when the real thing can be more gripping in the context of a documentary. However, I was pleasantly surprised (not having read or been aware of the Manga that preceded it) by a plot that is less about the activity so much as a story about a photographer in search of a scoop about a reclusive Japanese climber of Everest who happens to have found a camera belonging to the legendary climber Edward Mallory who disappeared, never to be found, after attempting to scale its' summit.

The photographer believes that the camera may hold the clue to Mallory's disappearance but in fact the device is really a "McGuffin" and the intention of the story is to uncover the psychological background and whereabouts of the Japanese climber who found it.

Graphically, it's spectacularly realized with a high level of animation and detailed background artwork that almost feels photographic at times due to the attention to detail, and the Himalayan vistas are depicted accurately in the same subdued tonal values that run across the entire film and that suggests a layer of impending doom.

I had some small issues regarding the depiction of the various Japanese characters that may or may not be do to with the fact that the film is a French production. Generally speaking the design of the characters follows the Manga closely, however, certain mannerisms seem to have been left out, such as the customary bowing that the Japanese do before and after a meeting, but these are minor niggles and perhaps because the film is set more or less in the present, it may infer that such social niceties are gradually disappearing amongst younger metropolitan Japanese.

Many Japanese animated films escape notice because they don't fit the conventional perception of Anime in the West and "Tokyo Godfather's" is one such film and is now available to view on Netflix.

Eschewing the usual science fiction / technology slant of 90% of Anime, the film tells a story that could have sprung from the pen of a writer of the Ealing comedies or the social themes common to British neo-realist cinema of the 60's by focussing on three Tokyo vagrants, a gay transvestite, an alcoholic and a young girl who has escaped her troubled home life after threatening to stab her father over the loss of a pet, which is about as un-Anime as you can get in terms of storyline.

We follow the three as they move in the shadowy world of the Tokyo homeless - a world of gay bars and illegal dives that contrast starkly with the neon lit futurism of the city around them - until they discover an abandoned baby and then suddenly they find a purpose amongst the detritus of trying to locate the child's parents.

In 2003, the late Satoshi Kon's current reputation as a visionary director had yet to be recognised and I have to admit that I wasn't a huge fan, largely because the graphic style of films such as "Perfect Blue" and "Millennium Actress" felt overly refined while still exhibiting the same conventions in terms of character design common to most Anime, and additionally the themes explored were the same Cyber-Punk themes common to so many Anime films of the period. .

While these traits exist in the design of the characters in "Tokyo Godfather's", they appear very distinctive and the setting of the story is very much the Tokyo of the present day without any science-fiction trappings.

The joy of the film lies in the characterizations and exaggeration of the expressions of the characters that occasionally lean into Kabuki conventions, testing the notion that because characters are realistically drawn, they have to be defined by the limitations of live-action and so exaggeration for effect is perfectly fine.

Set in winter and as with "Summit of The Gods", with a very muted colour palette overall to accentuate the time of year and the hopeless situation of the three hapless main characters, I would even go as far saying that this is the perfect Christmas film if you are fed up with "It's A Wonderful Life"...or better still, watch "It's A Wonderful Life" first, followed by "Tokyo Godfathers", for a similar life-affirming message that is devoid of unnecessary sentimentality.

"The Summit Of The Gods", Dir: Patrick Imbert, 2021

"Tokyo Godfathers", Dir: Satoshi Kon, 2003



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