departuresWe watched Departures this weekend – amazingly beautiful, sad, funny, uplifting film.

A premiere symphony orchestra in Tokyo disbands, leaving Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) suddenly unemployed.  Suffering from an innate sense that he is a mediocre musician, he faces up to the fact that not everyone who has devoted their life to music can become a top artist. With wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) in tow, he moves back to his home town in the northeastern prefecture of Yamagata.  They move into the crumbling remains of his mother’s house, which doubled as the local pub.

Spotting a Help Wanted ad featuring the word “departures,” he is excited about the prospect of trying a new career in the travel industry.  He arrives for the interview, curiously eyeing the coffins lining the back wall of the office.  The company owner, Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki), hires him on the spot, with only a cursory glance at his resume. Daigo finally ventures to ask what is involved, exactly, and is stunned to learn what he has gotten himself into: the ceremonial “encoffination” of corpses prior to cremation.  Sasaki urges him to take the job, proffering large amounts of cash.  He’s getting older, and needs someone to carry on the tradition.

In desperate straits, Daigo overcomes his initial trepidation and begins to travel around Hirano with Sasaki. Sasaki is comically matter-of-fact but firm in his directives and the contention that they are providing an important service to their community.   Some cases are markedly traditional, featuring beatific family members in time-honored transition.  Others highlight family dramas fraught with inevitable collisions, eased into unexpected conclusion.  True to Sasaki’s expectations, Daigo develops a deep respect for life in all its variations, and a profound empathy for people trying to make peace with the finality of death.

Too embarrassed to tell his wife about his conversation-stopping profession and admit that he has fallen in love with the townsfolk, Daigo vainly tries to keep his new life secret. As their relationship hangs in the balance, the big question is how he’s going to react to surprising news she brings, as an encoffineer, as a husband, as a son and as a human being.   It is Daigo’s turn to deal with life and death among the people who are dearest to him.

A story of love, of discovery, of revelation and of the transcending human spirit, “Departures” will linger in your heart and mind long after viewing.

makeupI loved this movie, gorgeous scenery from Japan, insight into traditions and culture, humor, philosophy, etc. It has it all. Showing the traditions of funerals in Japan and how the times have changed them. A glimpse into something rarely seen. Daigo’s acceptance of his role and growing care and respect in the rituals of encoffination and the way he uses his skill at the end of the movie to resolve his feelings was very poignant and well done. Very good movie, very deserving of its accolades.