Tuesday, January 12, 2010


The 2009 Best Foreign Language Film Academy award winner, and deservedly so!
‘Departures’ is not only one of the best Japanese films I have seen, but one of the best period. I am still in awe and even finding hard to find the words to write. A truly beautiful story about a failed cellist who gives up his big city life, and moves back to his hometown. Then through circumstances best described as "fate", a typo in the want ads of a newspaper leads him to discover his calling as a mortician. Not only does this change his life, but it would lead him to re-discover lost parts of his own past.

After finally landing himself a spot as a cellist in a Tokyo symphony, Daigo Kobayashi finds himself jobless when the entire orchestra is disbanded by its owner. Deciding to give up his passion he parts with his yet unpaid for cello and returns with his wife to his hometown moving into his inherited house left by his deceased mother. However he does not give up his passion completely, as throughout the film we are treated to some wonderful moments when Daigo picks up and plays his old childhood cello. Needing work he finds an ad for a position in “Departures”, which states that no experience is necessary. Assuming this is some sort of travel agency he heads off for his interview and is hired on the spot by ‘The Boss’. He soon learns of the typo and that ‘Departures’ was actually supposed to read ‘The Departed’. Unable to resist the lucrative pay he takes the job, but shamefully refrains from telling his wife exactly what he is doing at his new job. After a short while he starts to view death in a far different light, even the sight of a dead chicken for dinner or a floating fish in the stream has a profound impact on him. However it wouldn’t be long before his wife learns what it is he does, and without a full understanding of what that is, leaves him until he decides to quit. A choice he cannot bring himself to make.

Departures is not only a great film, but it’s a wonderful education on the Japanese tradition of preparing the dead. In a gracefully ceremonious fashion the body of the deceased is cleaned, re-dressed, and made up in front of his or hers mourners and prepared for the casket. At the same time they too wipe the face of the departed and say their farewells. The best moments of the film come during these ceremonies, and you soon see just how passionate Daigo has become, especially in the film’s final moments when he performs the ceremony on an especially important person. A moment that brought a few tears to my eyes!

Call it what you will, A “spiritual journey”, a “coming of age” story. Whatever you call it one thing’s for sure, Departures is a film that will leave a lasting impression on anyone who takes the time to watch it. It’s unfortunate that being a foreign language film this will be passed over by many people at the video stores, but for anyone who decides to give it a try they will not be disappointed.

A Film by: Yojiro Takita


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