Sunday, May 24, 2009
Winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film and numerous awards around the world, "Departures" (おくりびと | Japan 2008 | in Japanese | 131 min.) is a deeply moving and sentimental film that pays tributes to a traditional Japanese profession—encoffiner.
Young cellist Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) loses his job in an orchestra. He and his wife move back to his late-mother's old house in his small hometown. After he answers a job ad in a newspaper to help "departures," he reluctantly becomes an encoffiner who sends those "departed" to a new journey by gracefully dressing and placing the body into a coffin.
When Daigo's wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) finds out his encoffiner job, like many others, she disapproves him and hopes that he gets a different job instead. However, after she sees his elegant work, she and people around the town gain respect toward Daigo's profession and appreciate how encoffiners bring a closure to the family and connect the life and death.
An encoffination ritual is tremendously moving and beautiful. Like during a tea ceremony (茶道), every move by a encoffiner possesses impeccable precision, soothing gentleness, and ultimate respect.
Boy-band-singer-turned-actor Masahiro Motoki (本木 雅弘) gives a terrific performance as Daigo. Tsutomu Yamazaki (山崎 努) brings humor and wisdom to the role of Daigo's boss. Unlike in the classic "Tampopo" (タンポポ | Japan 1985 | in Japanese | 114 min.), instead of eating noodles, Tsutomu Yamazaki is cooking good chicken and fish. He "hates" himself because he cooks them so well.
"Departures" is a well crafted film that touches all walks of live who must face the inevitable—death. The film does not shy away from being sentimental while dealing with a sensitive topic. Yet, it eloquently transforms the moaning of death into a celebration of love among the living.