on March 8, 2011
A lengthy review is not required for this film. It was simple, profound and beautiful.
I consider myself to be a hard and somewhat jaded man, having survived war and traveling far in my life. This film awakened long-buried emotions.
Japanese films have always had the remarkable reputation of turning the simplest premise into something so full of moving emotions and sensibilities. Yojiro Takita's multi-award winning film "DEPARTURES" (2008) is no different. There is a lot of excessive hype surrounding the film as it has almost nearly swept the Japanese Academy awards and has been awarded the Best Foreign film honor in the recent 2009 Oscars. No film can live up to the hype it has gotten, but I have to say it has earned each and every recognition; well deserving of the commercial success it had achieved in its native land.
Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) is a cello player whose dream is shattered when the orchestra he is playing with goes broke. Left with no choice but to sell his prized cello, Daigo together with his wife Mika (beauteous Ryoko Hirosue) returns to his hometown to live in his mother's old house. In need of a new job, Daigo responds to an ad in the local paper for a job in "Departures", thinking that it may be related to travel. But much to his surprise and dismay, Daigo discovers that he had applied for a profession as an `Encofineer'; a man who performs the delicate and traditional Japanese ritual of preparing the bodies of the deceased for the departure to the next life--it pays quite well, and without even thinking about it, he accepts without even giving his wife the details of his new job.
It is not often that we become privy to a film about the beautifying of corpses, director Takita takes on the grim subject matter and gives it a commercial charm and appeal. The direction is quite meticulous in exposing the world of the mortician as we become witnesses to the Japanese customs and traditions as to how they deal with their dead. Takita shows that the profession demands a certain amount of sensitivity as we see the different reactions of those left behind by the deceased; some are angry, some are funny, most are overwhelmed by grief and some are curiously joyful. In Daigo's profession, there are no religious affiliation; they do what they do to preserve the memory of the deceased, remembering them as the way they used to be and not who they are in the present.
It is a safe bet that a premise such as this may be unusual even for Japanese audiences and one of the film's key to success is the way it executes its grim subject matter through some doses of subtle humor in the film's first act. Writer Kundo Koyama and the direction by Takita meticulously eases the premise into the audience, as we were privy to Daigo and Sasaki's encounter with an extra "thing" to a supposedly female corpse. We see Masahiro Motoki's deadpan humor as he becomes repulsed by his first job, and just how he eventually becomes comfortable with his new career. Takita cleverly illustrates the short moments in the ceremony that our morticians get to know the deceased quite intimately.
After everything sinks in, then the emotional scenes begin to take hold, as we learn more of Daigo's childhood, his problems with his wife's disapproval of his new job and his anger towards his father who had left him while he was a child to run off with a younger woman. Now this is a commercial film and we know that eventually people close to Daigo will eventually come to respect what he does for a living, it is a little predictable but the journey with which the film gets to where it wishes to go is well-played that the screenplay becomes somewhat of a melancholy with a rhythm that just looks so beautiful. Mika (played by Ryoko Hirosue) is just so lovable as the diligent wife; she is just so full of love and trust that her character represents the goodness within the Japanese woman. It was touching to see Daigo perform a ceremony in his wife's presence and director Takita carefully manipulates the camera work to show pure emotion. Takita also injects some sequences that are beautiful to awaken the emotion (sort of serves as a vanguard) as we see Daigo playing the cello on a hill as if he was reaching out again to his dreams. The film also has beautiful cinematography and emotion-inducing score to match its otherwise simple but grim premise to keep the film running at a brisk pace.
The film has two significant scenes that seemed to induce quite a few sniffles, they were injected to give a twist that plays a significant part in Daigo's life. The first one does provoke a lot of emotion; it is full of tear-inducing sequences that can definitely touch its audience. However, it does feel a little overlong that the second twist may lose some of the narrative impact to the inexperienced viewer. The two twists do work in unison in the screenplay but some may argue that Takita was working too hard to induce emotion working one twist right after the other. I didn't find anything wrong with it and I thought it stuck to its sensibilities in reflecting just how life can sometimes throw you in for a curve.
The performances are quite good, Motoki (who won best actor in Japan) and Hirosue has some dynamic chemistry between them and the supporting characters made up of Sasaki, Yuriko (co-employee played by Kimiko Yo) and the woman (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) who runs a bath house plays their own significance in the script. I loved the way Yamazaki played Sasaki, it was like a cool and quiet boss as he always seemed to say "its fine."
Despite some flaws in the screenplay that the film came dangerously close in becoming too sentimental, "Departures" is easily one of the best commercial films to come out from Japan. The last act will leave an impression that no matter how we see ourselves and others, death sometimes is the one thing that can bring a family together. The film's biggest ace would have to come from its ability to induce the proper emotion at the right minute with such simplicity. Such critical acclaim will no doubt raise the film to unreasonable expectations, and while it may not change the course of Japanese cinema, it is not pretentious and never hides behind its beautiful visual style. The way to approach this film is with tempered expectations, so that the film can touch you in its journey that is both surprising and pleasurable.
Highly Recommended! [4 ½ + Stars]
The release looks great and sounds great. The 1.78 ratio anamorphic widescreen video transfer is vivid and clean. It also has a 5.1 Dolby Digital Track Japanese language track. Subtitles are well timed and translated.
Amazon has a limit of five stars in its rating system. If I could, this 2008 film - which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film - would get SIX. It is the perfect blend of story, visuals and music!
You probably know already that this is the story of a "downsized" cello player who finds a job as an encofineer ( the men who add the makeup and garments to deceased persons before the are cremated.) I hope you don't know more, as it will really destroy the surprises in store for you as this beautiful film unfolds. I won't even give it a long review for that reason. The music all revolves around the cello and the score (which features 13 cells playing together over the end titles) is reminiscent of what Michael Nyman composed for the film "The Piano". The cinematography is gorgeous. There is no blood and no violence. Death comes naturally here and there is beauty in the dressing.
The subtitles are in yellow below the image and easy to read. And the dialogue is never fast, so you don't need to rush to read them. The DVD contains an interesting 11-minute interview with the Director (which is translated verbally into English as well as in English subtitles.). Don't watch the interview until after you see the film. It will spoil some of enjoyment.
This is a film that is appropriate for older teens and may actually lead to some interesting discussions of the humanity of death. But don't let that dissuade you from seeing it. Its just a BEAUTIFUL loving musically rich film.
on February 3, 2012
As others have so aptly stated, many words cannot convey the beauty of this definite masterpiece of a movie.
One of the greatest movies, I believe, of the last 50 years. Finally, a recent movie without any weapons, no chase scenes, NOT action-packed, NO buildings exploding. It's about peace, forgiveness, a hidden sense of a supreme being behind the reasons of LOVE for the only operating principle of life.
I would give it ten stars if I could.
When will the world learn that beyond all the spiritual and humanitarian reasons for gentleness, mercy and love...that the practice of violence is extremely low taste.
on April 27, 2010
I don't know what more I can say about this stunning film that hasn't been said. It was the surprise winner of the '08 Oscar for Foreign Language Film, so I was compelled to rent it. Best move I've made. After research, this film won every Japanese Academy Award, as well as many other Asian film awards. This is a film about life, and the love story adds to the beauty of the goings on. Indeed, death is part of life, and I would wish I'd be put to rest in as dignified a procedural as depicted here. Despite the morbid suggestion, there is lots of humor to alleviate the serious tone, and it also lets one know, rather encourages one, to let those you love to KNOW it before it's too late. I adored this film for it's simplicity, truth and absolute honesty. I was quite blown away.Acting is impeccable, and direction is perfect. There's a sweetness that makes you want to watch it again. DVD extras are fine. I recommend this film to all, without reservation.
on February 25, 2014
It has been a week since I viewed this movie and yet the emotions it evoked in me are still fresh. I find myself reflecting again and again on various scenes. When a piece of art, or writing, or music, or even a film shows you a new perspective, moves you in a profound way, you know it is a true work of art. Departures was that to me.
What you probably know: this is a film about a Japanese cellist whose orchestra is dissolved. He misreads a job ad and finds himself applying for a position as an assistant to a man who prepares bodies for their coffins (and, then, their cremation). The process is beautifully ritualistic, a very professional act of loving care. His wife is embarrassed by her husband's job and returns to her parents' home (waiting for her husband to find a new job). What happens, of course, is that the cellist discovers both the art and the humaneness of his new position and pursues it with the passion and skill that he brought to his cello playing. In the process he even has the opportunity to reconnect with the father who abandoned him. The film is sweet, heartfelt, amusing in a host of ways and very, very moving.
What you probably don't know: the script is perfect, the acting pitch-perfect, the direction simply amazing. Film schools often teach direction using the grand-scale example of David Lean. Lean is a magnificent director, but for those making a smaller, more personal film with a limited budget this work of Takita's could serve as a new exemplar.
This is the kind of film Hollywood seldom makes and more's the pity. It assumes that there are common elements in human nature; it addresses universal human emotions and it manages to be deadly serious in a lighthearted, touching, totally-apolitical way. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the filmmaker's craft at its highest level of skill. It is not a film that will change your life; it is one that will endlessly enrich it, by confirming the beauty, humor and pathos of human life and death.
on June 21, 2011
Departures features several smaller stories telling one larger. There's by far the most screen time for Daigo, a young man who leaves his profession as cellist in order to be a caretaker of the dead. Basically, he prepares the dead for their loved ones to view. Because he knows his wife will dislike his new career, he tries to keep it secret. He is also troubled by the unresolved bitterness resulting from his being abandoned by his father. It is a major transition the protagonist is to make, and that is why this movie is very fun to watch.
I was awed. Although many of the scenes are of moments resulting from death, it isn't a dramatic portrayal but is uplifting, comedic, and respectful. It is evident that Daigo admires and respects his new employer--the head honcho in this business. He seems to see him as a father figure. The scene of the employer enjoying a nice meal is my favorite. The employer is really my favorite character, and I recommend this movie to anyone. Its theme is to always follow your heart, and accept others when they do the same, even if it's difficult for you to understand at first. If it's something that brings joy to other people, it is worthwhile.
on January 5, 2012
Departures portrays an unusual topic, one that I wouldn't have sought out, yet the movie was recommended by Netflix, so I gave it a try. A young Japanese couple struggles to make ends meet and he applies for a job that sounds like it might be for a travel agency. It is, however, preparing bodies after death. I do not have the words to describe the depth of emotion, the tenderness, respect and understanding of the human condition that this movie conveys. It is superb. I've seen very few movies more than once, and this is one that I bought.
"Okuribito" ("Departures") was one of the hits of the 2009 Seattle International Film Festival. I heard nothing but raves about it, so obtained the DVD from the city library. I had to wait while hundreds before me enjoyed it. Now I have my own Blu-ray from Amazon.
This is a tale of a contemporary Japanese cellist whose orchestra folds for lack of financing, so he has to find a job. He takes his perpetually sunny wife to his childhood hometown so they can live rent free in his deceased mother's house. As he scans the want ads, he sees one about "Departures" that includes the magic words, "No experience necessary!" Of course, he sets off immediately, thinking it must be a travel agency.
He is hired and has accepted an advance on his pay before they explain that the ad had a typo; he will be helping prepare corpses for their departures to the crematorium. He is horrified but really needs the money, so he avoids telling his wife the exact nature of his work.
To me, the most interesting thing is the cultural difference in the way the deceased are cared for in the Orient. Professional encoffineers do the work that we here in the Occident expect from the mortician: they cleanse the body, fix the hair, shave and apply makeup. Furthermore, this is done in full view of the family, albeit tactfully masked from their watchful eyes with ingenious draping throughout the process!
As I watched this elegant ceremony I was struck by the calming effect and the respectful grace these professionals bring to what could be an emotional gathering as they quietly prepare loved ones for their final farewells. I appreciated the different attitudes they encountered from those widely diverse families. The first scene is hilarious as our neophyte encoffineer encounters a surprise under the masking drapery: the lovely woman he has been preparing turns out to be an entertainer...a drag queen!
We admire the skills this fellow acquires and hope his wife gets over the shock after she discovers what he does for a living. In addition, we learn about stone letters; these add an important and touching element to the story.
The music is delicious. The cello arrangements range from Mozart and Handel to "Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop..." This is in Japanese with terrific English captions. The interview with the director also has captions and I think you will find it educational...I know I did.