Thursday, February 10, 2011

A review of "Departures"

A film by director Yôjirô Takita
Starring Masahiro Motoki, Ryoko Hirosue, Tsutomu Yamazaki

Movie reviews are not my usual thing here.
Not sure why, since I love to share my opinions on most things.
But I had to share this time because I watched this movie the other day and liked it so much. I think it is so good but fear, because it is a foreign film, and about a slightly touchy subject, that it is a movie that not many of you will ever see.
And you should!

Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009, it is a funny, sweet, moving and beautiful movie that, sadly, many Americans may not see...thank goodness for Netflix!
Daigo Kobayashi, a cellist for an orchestra in Toyota that goes bankrupt, decides to return to his hometown with his wife, to live in a house that his mother left him when she died and to start a new life. Looking for a job, he answers an ad in the newspaper for a job in "Departures", and that he assumes has something to do with a travel agency. Well, yes, a sort of travel is involved because his boss is in the business of preparing bodies for their trip into the afterlife. He is an encoffiner, someone who ritually cleans, dresses and grooms bodies, as the family looks on, before they are placed in a coffin to be cremated or buried.

It is a job that Daigo hides from people, even misleading his wife about what he does, because dealing with dead bodies is considered by many Japanese, and many worldwide, to be dirty. And to tell the truth, he is not too thrilled with it at first. It is often a very difficult job. But the pay is very good and in a short time he grows to respect and care for his elderly boss, Ikuei Sasaki, who becomes a father figure for him, since Daigo still suffers from his own father walking out on him and his mother when he was just a child. Most of all, he grows to respect the beautiful, precise and respectful ritual and the closure and peace it brings to so many families. He begins to feel that he is doing something very important and meaningful and something he must continue to do.

Now some of you might say, "Oh, that does not sound like a subject that I want to see in a movie."
And you would be wrong.
Yes, it is about death but it is about much more. It's about families, about love and loss and reconciliation. It's about telling those around you how you feel while you still have the chance and it is about the respect that we should pay to both the living and the dead. It is also beautifully filmed, with some lovely scenes in the Japanese countryside, including that one pictured on the cover of the DVD above, and has a beautiful, cello heavy, musical score. The film is framed by the beautifully filmed opening scene, which I suggest you watch carefully so as not to miss a reaction that will be explained later in the movie, and a touching closing scene.

But what really shines in this movie are the characters. Major and minor, each has a story to tell, as we discover as the movie unfolds. Some are funny...and this is often a quite humorous film...and some are heartbreaking sad. Yes, I will admit it, as much as I hate to, that on more than one occasion I had to reach for a tissue.

A sweet, moving, beautiful little movie that you really should not miss.
If I gave stars, I would give this one 5.


  1. The movie sounds good, but I don't do well with subtitles.

  2. It sounds different but in a good way. Love the poster.

  3. That looks mighty! Thanks for highlighting it.

  4. This sounds very interesting and moving. I'd have to watch it alone though as TBG does not watch sub-titled movies. Thanks for your wonderful review, Caite. I'm putting this one on MY list.

  5. I do not really mind sub-titles but even if you are not thrilled with them, this one is totally worth it.

  6. I saw this film during the summer of 2009. It is absolutely fantastic.


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