Tokyo Godfathers, set in the contemporary titular Japanese capital city, begins on Christmas Eve and concerns three homeless people: Gin, a middle-aged man claiming that he used to be a professional bicycle racer; Hana, a.k.a. Uncle Bags, an aging transvestite; and Miyuki, a teenaged runaway girl. They live together in a makeshift, tent-like shelter from which they go scrounging in the scrap-heaps of the Shinjuku district. At this emotionally-charged time of year, the three protagonists, while scavenging in a garbage dump, find an abandoned baby girl. This astonishing discovery transforms the trio's lives while they struggle to take care of their newfound charge and, using a few clues left with the little one, they seek the infant's parents, all the while hoping to also learn why they would desert their child.
The baby's needs awaken the three surrogate caregivers' long-buried emotions and memories about their pasts, which they reveal to each other and which we see in flashbacks. Their quest propels them into exciting adventures and encounters all over Tokyo and with all sorts of folks from every stratum of society—some helpful, others threatening—all having transforming effects on the protagonists. These developments become more poignant when the plot's focus on the usually overlooked aspects of modern Japanese urban existence gets starkly and ironically contrasted with the all too often phony jollity of the Yuletide season.
Along the way to the breathtaking, riveting conclusion, Tokyo Godfathers epitomizes the full potential of anime to deliver complicated, emotionally fulfilling stories layered in meaning and subtexts. This film in particular utterly entertains while it explores all sorts of social issues: the meaning of family and relationships; the challenges and arbitrariness of gender stereotyping; the tragedy of economic and class inequalities; and the uplifting potential to maintain one's pride and find contentment in the midst of adversity—this last an admirable goal the three protagonists manage to attain in surprising ways. Tokyo Godfathers also succeeds in presenting delightfully believable characters in its three leads—all fully rounded individuals balancing virtues with grotesqueries, most notably in the portrait of the aging drag-queen, one of the most sympathetic, positive gay characters in all of anime and even in all of cinema for that matter, comparing favorably to those in the memorable classic La cage aux folles.