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Movie Critic Review: Departures 2008

Filmmaker Takida

First time I saw this movie was when I visited a friend who ran a movie theater in London and got an instant invitation from him to watch a movie right behind the spot where we were chatting.  More than a year later, this friend passed a mysterious envelope to my hand when he started to withdraw from the crowded reception room where I was receiving mourners on my brother's death. He said: "A gift for you!"
The envelope contained a DVD of none other than the movie we saw together Departures, the Japanese movie that shows how the dead can possibly get a nice help in their departures! It was a well-thought-of expression of grief from my friend. After he left I rummaged the envelope. There wasn't a 'stone letter' lurking behind the DVD!

How To Make Death Part Of Life?
A Summary

Daigo (a musician) who lost his job moves from Tokyo with his good-spirited wife back to his small childhood town to rethink his options. He and his wife Mica settle in the small house left by Daigo's mother who died two years ago.
An ad for a job on the papers attracts Daigo's attention: working with departures! Daigo goes to the interview, wins the job in seconds, gets and advance cash payment in the middle of his shock by the nature of the job. When he goes back home he tells his wife he would be 'doing ceremonies'!

Tsutomu Yamazaki
But Daigo who used to play a fairly large musical instrument (the cello) utilizes the precision and grace his hands have learned while working as a musician to quickly learn how to prepare dead people before the caretaker cremates them. Through the movie we get to observe this rite of preparing the dead for cremation which is based on the belief that death is only a gate people cross on their way to 'the next stage' of existence. The rite itself is an act of reverence and respect to the human dead body and is done in such an elegant and gracious way as taught to Daigo by his mentor, the boss.
Daigo keeps his job despite objections from his wife, who leaves him for a while but then comes back when she discovers she is pregnant. His childhood friend also shows disgust after learning of Daigo's job. Even school-girls in the bus loudly show their contempt with the smell of the dead he tried to hide. But Daigo is relentless. He thinks of what is happening to him as a turn of fate.
Ryoko Hirosue
This living on the dead, this closeness to corpses especially when they are made up and beautified by his skilled hands, rendered him occupied and contained by the idea of Death. He gradually shifts from music to musing. Every where there is death. Octopus, fish, chicken along with people, young and old.
Daigo remembers his father who ran away from home leaving Daigo and his mother on their own for years. Daigo does not know about his father and could not remember his face. He only recalls that his father taught him to send 'stone letters'. People would know how you feel from the shape, texture or size of the stone you give/send to them. In his preoccupation with his fate and the transforming job he got, Daigo has a flashback in which he relives those moments with his father when he learned from him about 'stone letters'. Close to the final scene of the movie, a 'stone-letter' falls from his father's hand. A small and smooth 'stone-letter' which means his father is sort of satisfied with him. Daigo who is so overwhelmed by getting to see his father after years presses the 'stone letter' on his pregnant wife's belly as if conveying that meaning to their unborn child.

Masahiro Motoki
The film contains other tiny subplots (e.g. the struggle of the public bath lady against her greedy son) and it has many departures, as well. The opening scene is a black comedy as the 'deceased' turns out to be a 'lady-boy', a kind of a double departure, and the family fights in front of his corpse as to who is responsible for her becoming a boy or vice versa. It is a hilarious scene!

Eros Versus Thanatous

The film was beautifully photographed with emphasis on bursts of life such as birds, suddenly, taking off and other spectacular signs of life in the environment. There are strong scenes in which the passion for life, for food and for love stands in the face of the overwhelming Death that has these people engaged in living by finishing up His job.
All this is conveyed in a good script and amazing cinematography.
The acting is outstanding, especially the actors doing assistant roles.

The most memorable feature in Departures is the music score composed by Joe Hisaishi reminiscent of Beethoven's ninth Symphony and also Bach's Ave Maria and other classic Western music. Hisaishi adds a lot of value to the black-comedy that later turns to strong drama.

The Academy Awards (The Oscar) 2009

Departures won the 2009 Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar after a fierce competition with a French and an Israeli movie. It also won the Grand Prize at Montreal Film Festival besides a score of other awards.apart from some 30 other awards.

Comments by a Survivor and The Assistant Encoffineer

"She had never looked so beautiful." said a bereaved husband after the boss encoffineer
made up his wife so well before her cremation.
"Your last purchase and some one else chooses it." The encoffineers assistant was showing
Daigo the different types of coffins. "They all burn the same!" She added.
"It is slower now in the summer." Assistant describing the business to Daigo. She also told him "It is a niche market."
Here is part of the music score conducted by the composer Hisaichi:

Departures (2008)
Country: Japan
Genre: Drama, Black Comedy
Running Time: 2 hrs. 11 min.
Starring: Tsutomu Yamazaki (The Boss), Kimiko Yo (Yuriko), Ryoko Hirosue (Mika), 
Masahiro Motoki (Daigo)
Directed by: Yojiro Takita
Music by: Joe Hisaishi
Produced by: Yasuhiro Mase, Toshiaki Nakazawa


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