Departures

Kimiko Yo

Kimiko Yo

A very interesting Japanese movie.

This movie won an Oscar for the best foreign language film of 2008, as well as prizes in Japan.

I found “Departures” to be quite a refreshing movie. Refreshing from the usual Hollywood fast paced type production that has overwhelmed the Western market for a long time.

There is a mix of comical misunderstandings within a very serious subject, i.e. death. This is a slow paced movie with a lot of drama. No special effects or big budget, but an emphasis on the characters.

Daigo is a chronic screw-up who changes his career from an orchestra cellist to working for departures, as the orchestra is disbanded. He thought that “departure” was some sort of travel agency for which he applied through an ad, and little did he know that the company deals with encoffination, i.e. the ceremonial preparation of corpses for cremation.

Initially taken aback by the revelation that the job involves dealing with dead people, he slowly gets immersed in his new duties and progressively learns to master them to the level of an art reminiscent of flower arrangement. As it consists in cleaning and preparing the dead bodies in slow rituals.

He works with his taciturn boss Ikuei Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and his beautiful secretary Yuriko Kamimura (Kimiko Yo). The trio forms an unlikely morbid set.

The movie takes place for the most part in the countryside of Japan at and around the small town of Sakata, Yamagata. Beautiful pictures of this simple and ancestral lifestyle, entirely Japanese as foreigners do not wander in this area. Bathhouse, local houses or a river full of dying salmon in a mountain scenery.

Death is the central theme so if you are looking for a comedy this is not what I recommend, even though there is a constant sense of irony in most situations. But this is one of the saddest movie that I have seen recently, and the beautiful cello music accompanying the events is a good choice to make this sense of sadness even more powerful.

Another theme is the (estranged) father. Or his absence, as Daigo has not seen his in thirty years, since he left them with a waitress. This is sad as well because his father has left a strong mark in Daigo’s psyche, or rather what has become a scar now. He cannot even remember his father’s face.

But it is his father who made him study the cello while still a toddler, and hence he has had a profound influence on Daigo’s destiny despite his disappearance. Daigo still keeps a stone that his father gave him.

The message of the movie: parents have an immense influence on their children.

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One Response to “Departures”

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