Movies Catholics Should Watch: Tokyo Godfathers

January 2, 2012

Tokyo Godfathers, directed by Satoshi Kon

Now this isn’t your typical Christmas movie.  (At least, insofar as the “typical” Christmas movie takes you into the lives of the homeless in Japan.)  Three Tokyo “bums” — Gin, a middle-aged alcoholic; Hana, a born-again Christian and a former drag queen; and Miyuki, a teenage runaway — find an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve and set out to find the baby’s parents.  As they witness kidnappings, double-crossings, and attempted suicides, each of the protagonists’ histories is revealed.

There is a realistic roughness to each one of the protagonists; it seems as if there is always something for which we can condemn them.  Indeed, the film soon makes clear that no one is blameless (except perhaps the abandoned baby).  Yet Gin, Hana, and Miyuki each have their moment to redeem themselves, and it is at these moments that they become most beloved to the audience.

Three essential themes emerge to the discriminating Catholic viewer.  First, each one of us is a person with a story;  no one can ever be considered “trash” or less than human.  Even though the protagonists are homeless and “useless” to society, they all have a back-story to why they are in their current state of life.

Second, everyone has a family, and family is essential to who we are.  Though Gin, Hana, Miyuki abandoned their families, some seemingly supernatural force brought them back together.  Moreover, the three protagonists form a sort of surrogate family of their own, and despite the fact they despise each other at times, they care deeply for each other.  The bonds of family — whether biological or not — are near-impossible to sever.

The third and final theme of Tokyo Godfathers is the little miracles in our lives that we call coincidences.  Coincidence follows coincidence after Gin, Hana, and Miyuki discover the baby — they are led back to their families, gain flashes of insight about themselves, and even have their lives saved.  Indeed, one might say that “coincidences” are proof that a higher plan is guiding us; nothing ever happens without reason.

This isn’t your typical Christmas movie, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it.  Add it to your to-watch list for next Christmas season…or as early as now, for that matter.

In short…

Content:  Narrative that relies heavily on flashbacks.  There are plenty of twists that keep you on your toes, and the flashbacks progressively humanize the protagonists throughout the film.
Style:  True to form, Satoshi Kon (director of the anime films
Millennium Actress and Paprika) makes you scratch your head as you wonder if you’ve missed something.  However, Tokyo Godfathers wraps up much more cleanly than Millennium Actress and Paprika.
Catholic:  A subtle analysis of the human condition that places emphasis on the dignity of every person and on the family.  Very Catholic indeed, if not outwardly so.

Overall:  3 out of 4 stars


5 Non-Religious Books to Make You a Better Catholic

September 9, 2011

St. Justin Martyr proclaimed that aspects of Truth can be found in the philosophies of even the pagans.  Indeed, in my own experience, my greatest understanding of Church teachings and values have come from non-Catholic — even non-religious — sources.

Below is a list of 5 books that, I think, have really made me into a better and prouder Catholic.  I also write this post to encourage you, too, to seek Truth even where Truth is not obviously manifested; St. Ignatius of Loyola urged us to find God in all things.  As we know, God can make Himself be known in the most unexpected of ways.

 

1)  Virgil’s Aeneid
The Ancient Roman nationalistic epic that immortalizes the Trojan Aeneas’ journey to fulfill his destinyPutting aside personal desire and doubts, Aeneas trusts in Fate and in pietas (duty to family, country, and the gods) and founds a new nation in Italy, a nation whose fame will be limited by the stars: Rome.

Everyone has an ideal, a comfort, a belief that drives them through life.  For me, it is my trust in God’s Providence.  The Aeneid really propagates the idea that there is a divine plan for us.  Even when we suffer, even when we are confused, we should have the humility to let go of our own ambitions and hesitations and allow Providence to take us where we’re meant to be.

The Catholic Church teaches that God puts us in certain situations for a reason.  He gives us certain talents, surrounds us with certain people, gives us certain duties because He wants us to do something with them.  This is the idea of Providence, and if we only use our free will to submit to God’s will, we can truly find who we are.

2) Keiichi Sigsawa’s Kino no Tabi
Novel series turned anime—follows Kino and her motorcycle Hermes as they travel from city to city.  Through her travels Kino sees how man destroys himself.  But she also finds beauty in the world, and she learns.  That’s why she keeps traveling.

This novel taught me to really reflect on my experiences and to learn from them.  As Catholics we are called to live in the world and do good works, but we are also called to withdraw into quiet contemplation and prayer every once in a while.  Kino no Tabi really gave me a joy in doing this.  Whenever I meet someone, whenever I experience something, I always take some time to ponder why.

3)  Beaumarchais’ The Figaro Trilogy
Three plays that celebrate the virtue and wit of the common man and woman against the foolishness and follies of the aristocracy.  Beaumarchais was a liberal, and The Figaro Trilogy became a precursor to the French Revolution.

What makes the Figaro Trilogy ironic is that though it helped fuel the French Revolution, which is oft-characterized by its venomous anti-Catholicism,  it yet promotes one of the hallmark virtues of the Catholic Church:  Forgiveness.  Two plays in the Trilogy — “The Marriage of Figaro” and “The Guilty Mother”–explore the truth that the ones we love most are the ones who hurt us the most.  Yet we are always called to forgive, because ultimately forgiving and being together is more worth it than being vengefully bitter.

As Catholics we too are called to forgive each other.  And while the Church always holds us to high moral standards, She is also extremely generous in Her forgiveness. As the deathbed convert Oscar Wilde aptly stated:  The Catholic Church “is for saints and sinners alone.”

4)  Plato’s Republic
The Good, and how to find it in your soul and in society.

Written in the 4th century BC, this book obviously predates any sort of Christian institution.  Yet throughout its history, the Catholic Church has looked to Plato as a model for finding God.  For me, the Republic has served as a sort of guide.  I need to find God with my whole being, but only after I subjugate my passions and will to my conscience.  The Republic has also taught me that if one has truly ordered his/her soul well, the Good will show in his/her works and actions.

5)  HW Crocker III’s The Old Limey
The Old Limey follows the adventures of an old British general as he seeks his kidnapped goddaughter in the streets of LA.  He is hopelessly lost in the heroic idealism and glories of Britain’s past, which, set against the backdrop of the modernistic, materialistic, and pragmatic Southern California, looks ridiculously yet entertainingly absurd.

The Old Limey is actually written by a solid Catholic, H.W. Crocker III, yet it has no explicit Catholic message.  The Old Limey is brilliant because it is essentially a modern Don Quixote.  Don Quixote and Nigel Haversham both live and fight for ideals that their modern worlds have discounted.  As Catholics it is easy to feel like them:  The world is always telling the Church to modernize and progress, yet the Church continues to stay true to her teaching and values.  The Old Limey inspired me to really hold true to and fight for Catholic ideals, with the singular devotion of an old Spanish knight or British general.


Books Catholics Should Read: Sanshiro

August 2, 2011

Not all who wander are lost. –JRR Tolkien

Ours is a society that praises dedicated drive and aimed ambition.  To “succeed,” young people need to know where they want to go, know how to get there, and do whatever it takes to arrive at their desired destination.

Sanshiro rejects that.  Indeed, it is filled with nostalgia for the naive wandering of youth.  Set at the turn of the 20th century, the novel follows the oft-bewildered experiences of Sanshiro, a university student who leaves his remote agricultural hometown to study in the newly industrializing and Westernizing Tokyo.  It’s a coming-of-age novel of “growth without maturity”: Sanshiro reminisces and almost pines for the days when we could gaze up at the clouds and dream, unburdened as yet by the harsh concerns of reality.  It examines Sanshiro with an almost jealous sentimentality as he excitedly and clumsily wanders every path available to him–never committing himself to any one of them.  He is allowed to fall in love with someone he can never have because that is the glory of youth.

by Natsume Soseki

Sanshiro is Natsume Soseki’s cry to the ever-modernizing world.  There’s a certain sentimental beauty in being lost, because by being lost, we are able to stop the world and make sense of it–and in the course of things, we are able to appreciate it.  We should allow ourselves to fall in love with things we can’t have.  We should allow ourselves to wander and wonder.  Because these are the things that give life meaning.  We don’t necessarily need to learn from experience; we should be able to simply experience, and be grateful for it.

Sanshiro is not a call for us all to wander around in our own fantasy worlds forever.  But it is a reminder of the dreams and freedom we lose when we grow up.  Wandering, after all, doesn’t necessarily mean we’re lost.

Content: Episodic adventures loosely connected by Sanshiro’s pursuit of a beautiful woman miles out of his league.
Style: Easy prose loosely divided into short 1.5-3 page episodes. 
The episodes flow smoothly together, though, so you hardly notice they are separate.
Catholic?:
Again not necessarily so.  Still, I find that an appreciation for life as it is very Catholic in nature.  And the idea of wandering around till you find the direction towards which God is leading you is indeed very Catholic.

Overall: 3.5/5