Departures (2009)

Director: Yojiro Takita
Daigo Kobayashi is a devoted cellist in an orchestra that has just been dissolved and now finds himself without a job.

Genre: Drama
Awards: Won 1 Oscar - best foreign language film.
Runtime: 130min
Rating: PG


--> The surprise winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film of 2008, Departures snatched home the golden man from favorites like Laurent Cantet’s The Class, and Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir. Directed by Yojiro Takita, the Japanese drama is in every way a deserving winner of the Oscar.

And I hope that with this win, more will realize that Japanese cinema is n
ot all populist crap; it can be culturally rich and deeply intense too. Correct me if I am wrong, but this is the second Oscar win (in this century) for a Japanese film since Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2001).
Departures tells a story of a young married man, Daigo, who loses his job as a cellist in an orchestra which is seeing dwindling audiences. He then chances upon a job advertisement and lands himself (unwillingly) as an assistant to an old, experienced professional who plies his trade in the coffin business.

While Daigo is understandably immensely uncomfortable with his work initially, the job grows on him as he consistently brings in the dough. He does ritual cleansing, dressing, and make-up for the dead during the funeral before they are put to rest in the coffin, or in short, encoffinment. Because of the nature of the job, Daigo’s marriage falls apart and
he feels unaccepted by society.

But that is just the surface of the story. Departures dwells into something more intrinsic to our hearts -loss, death, guilt, regret, family, and love - emotions and themes that are omnipresent in our lives, but are often difficult to convey in film.

Takita’s picture reveals these with careful direction, honest acting, and a surreal music accompaniment (by the legendary Joe Hisaishi) to the film’s many heart-wrenching moments. The characters are so well-realized that they take a life of their own; it is as if
we know their entire life story, their painful past, and their hopes for the future.
Not only does Departures tug at our heartstrings, it is also an eye-opening observation of a job most will shun without hesitation. Is it a loser’s job? Is it an unclean job? What the director does well is to convince viewers that it is neither. Through sprinkles of effective humor, Takita manages to bring a light-hearted warmness to the film, though this is ultimately overwhelmed by the sheer melancholia of it all.

Departures is a touching ode to those who have left us. It is also one of the
best films to grace the screen in recent years. It is a powerful tearjerker and a reminder that embracing death can be a very beautiful thing too. Highly recommended!

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