Imagine the situation: a young interviewer from ‘Cahiers du cinema’ named Jean-Luc Godard manages to talk to the greatest director of those times, an immovable totem named John Ford. At one point in the interview, the Frenchman asks him “What brought you to Hollywood?” Ford, undeterred, replies “The train.” Few anecdotes better reflect the personality of the director after ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance’ or ‘Desert Centaurs’, the author of some of the most impressive masterpieces in history and from which there is always something new to know (and to learn).
The remake of the remake
Current for his fantastic personification in ‘Los Fabelmans’ (I’m not going to spoil who plays him in case there is someone who wants to be surprised), even Ford’s minor works always have something to scratch about. Not in vain was that man who loved making movies but hated talking about them, the one who claimed that art made no sense to him and he only directed to pay the rent, He is, even now, the director with the most Oscars in history.
And his legacy is immeasurable: it escapes no one that today’s cinema would not exist in this way if he hadn’t picked up a camera in 1917 following in the footsteps of his brother Francis (whom he later hired as an actor in multiple films). The tentacles of his influence reach so much that one of the best anime films in history, ‘Tokyo Godfathers’, it wouldn’t exist without one of his so-called “minor works”, a western called ‘Three Godfathers’.
But, as much influence as it would have in the future, in 1948 ‘Three Godfathers’ was not an unknown work for the public: in 1913, Peter B. Kyne published the original novel in the Saturday Evening Post about a group of outlaws who ended up having to take care of a baby. Only three months after its publication, DW Griffith has already made the first adaptation, a 17-minute film titled ‘The sheriff’s baby’. In 1916 it was shot again with the original title, and in 1919 a first-timer John Ford made a remake of that film from three years earlier under the title ‘Marked man’. For understanding us: in ‘Three Godfathers’ John Ford made a self-remake of the remake of an adaptation. So that we complain about the current lack of imagination.
From western to anime
‘Marked man’ is considered a lost film, which has an incredible union with ‘Three Godfathers’: in 1919, John Ford trusted Harry Carey for the main role, who repeated the same one he already did in the 1916 version. In the 1948 remake, one of the leads was Harry Carey Jr. and the film was dedicated to his father, who died a year before he was able to see it (“bright star in the western sky”). The film was a box office success, grossing nearly $3 million (about $35 million adjusting for inflation) and John Wayne, Pedro Armendáriz and Harry Carey Jr. were praised for their roles.
fifty years later, a Japanese director born in 1963 revealed himself as an author with the intention of changing everything: Satoshi Kon. The author of ‘Perfect blue’ and ‘Millennium actress’ was also an uncompromising film buff, drawing inspiration from cinema from around the world, from Akira Kurosawa to John Ford. And he was precisely watching ‘Three outlaws’ when it occurred to him that his new film could star three homeless people who have to take care of a baby at Christmas.
Keep in mind that ‘Three Outlaws’ ends right on Christmas night, so ‘Tokyo Godfathers’ can be considered a kind of dialogue between Satoshi Kon and John Ford, which unknowingly inspired one of anime’s pivotal works created by a genius gone too soon. Two masters of celluloid, conversing through films made decades apart. Sometimes the cinema is just wonderful.