Distributed by: Shochiku
Released: September 2008
My guess is that of all the foreign films I have watched in my lifetime (subtracting the Best Foreign Films), 80% have been Japanese. That’s because a few years ago I discovered Akira Kurosawa and began obsessively watching all of his movies I could find. So I was looking forward to this film to see if it would measure up to any of the great films made by him or by the other two famous Japanese directors of his era, Yasujirō Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi. What I found was that this was no Seven Samurai or The Tokyo Story in terms of tone or scope, but was quite different, and in a good way.
|An encoffinment ceremony|
|Excuse me? You got a job doing what?|
Daigo soon learns that he is more talented at fiddling with dead carcasses than with the cello, and . . . . kinda likes it (weird!). But just as he gets used to his new job, he is thrown for a loop—the next dead guy on the slab is none other than his old man! Daddy issues rise to the top here, so basically this movie is a carbon copy of Field of Dreams, except we are in Japan and not Iowa, and the subject matter is encoffinment and not baseball, and just about every other detail is different.
Departures is a simple film, really. No fancy camera work but well shot, and I found the ritual scenes to be quite captivating. Again, this movie is so very different from the ones of the great earlier Japanese masters, yet it shares a theme common with them—that of a passing Japanese culture, one moving from the religious to the secular, from the traditional to the modern. It is a bittersweet theme—sad, of course, to see our traditions pass as our loved ones do. But at the same time, if we embrace the today, we can see the beauty of the new. Departures doesn’t look like the wonderful Japanese cinema of Kurosawa's day, yet it’s okay to let go and look at the modern and enjoy it for its beauty in its own right, all with respect and appreciation for the past.
The Title: おくりびと, literally, “one who sends off.” The title is the joke, in part—the ad wasn’t for departures to another country but into the next life. But it is also about departures from what one expects of life, or from what one has held as fundamentally important, onto something different, and possibly greater.
The Culture: The dying art of encoffinment in the Buddhist tradition is shown with beauty and dignity. Whenever you learn a little thing about a culture in a movie like this, it’s an unexpected treat.
Agenda Danger: Nothing slightly political.
Best Picture that year: Slumdog Millionaire
Rating: A film with comedy that isn’t over the top and has drama at the right tone. Believe me, you are dying to see it.