Since we are isolated and stuck inside during this Christmas season, I decided this year I was going to put together a list of of my favorite Christmas stories. The angle I took in putting this together is Christmas “pairings”, be it in book form or film. These are stories that seem to me to have a connection in spirit and focus, and which have inspired me over the years.
I have come up with 15 pairings of films/books in total, and my plan is to present those films one a day, beginning today with the second Sunday of Advent, along with a brief reflection on why these stories resonated for me, how I see them fitting together, and what I think they can say to us in a more difficult Christmas season.
Here is my first pairing 🙂
TOKYO GODFATHERS (2003) and LAST CHRISTMAS (2019)
At the heart of both of these stories are dysfunctional families. In the case of Tokyo Godfathers, this is a non-biological family born from a shared experience of homelessness and poverty. In the case of Last Christmas, it is a blood related immigrant family finding their way in America.
What’s interesting about considering these two films in conversataion is that both films are about the power a single person and experience holds to change our perspective in the midst of the current struggle, but they approach this from opposite ends of the conversation. In Tokyo Godfather we begin from a position of impoverished struggle where a chance encounter with an abandoned baby refocuses their attention away from their own circumstance and onto the fate of this young life. In Last Christmas, we begin from a place of privilege where a chance encounter with a young man refocuses a young woman’s perspective away from her own circumstnace, which is humurously dysfunctional even without the family in view, and onto the very real struggles of poverty, racism (including immigration) and a divided and estranged family.
There is a thread of faith that works its way through both films as well. In Tokyo Godfathers, the baby acts as a mirror image to their own experience, evoking questions of why God would allow the abandonment of a baby, and by nature their poverty. What is interesting is that the child becomes the means by which the homeless family is able to put their own struggle into some form of context. They matter becuase this child matters. In Last Christmas, our main character’s gradual spiritual awakening moves her from the apathy of her not so great life choices, which includes a barrage of surface relationships that don’t really hold much meaning, towards valuing the stuff that really matters. Her story matters because the story of her family and her people and those in poverty matter.
The powerful truth in both of these films is that everyone has a story. The binding agent that brings these stories together is compassion and empathy. This is what locates agency in a place where agency doesn’t seem to exist. And in both films we discover a profound picture of grace, grace that moves us to consider that despite the challenges that weight down our personal circumstance, be it in places of privilege or poverty, there is a great big world that invites our participation. Sometimes we simply need to look up from where we are to see it.