Departures

Japanese, 2008

Directed by Yojiro Takita


Starring: Masahiro Motoki, Ryoko Hirosue, Tsutomu Yamazaki

130 minutes

Reviewed by Jeremy Silman

Rating (a 1 – 6 scale): 5.5



As the world suffers from economic trouble, it makes sense that various movies will address this problem. The magnificent Tokyo Sonata tackles this in a very powerful way, and so does Departures, which won an Oscar for best foreign film.

In Departures, a young (mid-thirties) cellist named Daigo (Masahiro Motoki) finds himself out of work when his orchestra, lacking in funds, is dissolved. Since he isn’t exactly a cellist superstar, finding employment in that field turns out to be impossible, and so he’s forced to consider other career options.



Leaving their expensive Tokyo haunts, Daigo and his wife Ikuei (Tsutomu Yamazaki) head for a village and a rent-free situation (Daigo’s mother died and left him the house). That’s all well and good, but what about work? Looking in the newspaper, Daigo spots an ad for "departures”, not realizing it related to a ritualized service that prepares dead bodies in front of their families, relatives, and friends.



At first he refuses such a career, but the absence of anything else, and the fact that he’ll be trained to master this art, finally convinces him to give it a try.



The movie then concentrates on various issues: How will his wife react, and should he hide his new profession from her? How will people in town view him once he accepts this ghoulish job? And how will Daigo himself deal with this new, completely alien, life direction?



It turns out that the director (Yojiro Takita) and main star (Masahiro Motoki) trained for a full year in the art of encoffining! Motoki also learned to play the cello for this role. One has to love such dedication to their craft!

My only gripe concerns the back-story about Daigo’s relationship with his father, who abandoned him as a child. This was clearly designed to add to the film’s "tear quotient.” To milk this for all it’s worth, they upped the ante in the film’s end and turned a realistic, thoughtful, introspective movie into a forced emotional dump. I suppose most people will enjoy the film’s end (tears flowing as they worship the triumph of the human spirit… gag), but for me it turned a perfectly executed piece of art (a 6 out of 6) into something a bit less (5.5), but still very, very good.