Daigo Kobayashi is a devoted cellist in an orchestra that has just been dissolved and now finds himself without a job. Daigo decides to move back to his old hometown with his wife to look for work and start over. He answers a classified ad entitled "Departures" thinking it is an advertisement for a travel agency only to discover that the job is actually for a "Nokanshi" or "encoffineer," a funeral professional who prepares deceased bodies for burial and entry into the next life. While his wife and others despise the job, Daigo takes a certain pride in his work and begins to perfect the art of "Nokanshi," acting as a gentle gatekeeper between life and death, between the departed and the family of the departed. The film follows his profound and sometimes comical journey with death as he uncovers the wonder, joy and meaning of life and living. Written by
To provide realistic bodies while preventing the corpses from moving, after a lengthy casting process the crew chose extras who could lie as still as possible. For the bath house owner Tsuyako Yamashita, this was not possible owing to the need to see her alive first, and a search for a body double was unfruitful. Ultimately, the crew used digital effects to transplant a still image of the actor during the character's funeral scene, allowing for a realistic effect. See more »
[voice over narration]
When I was a child winter didn't feel so cold. It's nearly two months since I moved home from Tokyo. It's been an awkward time.
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Grandeur and noblesse, when death is seen as a prolongation of life
The human dimension of this film touched me. Some of these things touched me to tears. I list a few of them.
1. The job of the professionals who prepares the dead for their last contact with the family (wake) and their passage to eternity (cremation). In the film, the characters who perform this job, teach the spectator a true ritual of respect and affection with the dead. "Respect and affection with the dead": feelings that the modern life tries to banish from its practices. In the modern world, the dead are inconvenient and dispatched quickly in funerals where the majority of those who are present, entertain themselves with parallel talks, instead of focusing on the reason why they are there.
2. The nobility and grandeur of this job that, in the film, is not associated with any religion, and is directly associated with dealing with human beings. This nobility and grandeur reflects also on to the dead, in the sense that it reminds us that the dead deserve our respect and affection, because a new stage of our relationship with them is starting.
3.The way Daigo grows, as he learns this job, and overcomes (i)the social stigma that society imposes upon the contact with the dead and, also, the people who have contact with the dead, as well as (ii) his personal repulsion with repulsive material aspects of death (odors, rot, etc.)
4. The way Daigo grows, as he incorporates the nobility and grandeur of the job he was forced to do because of the circumstances (he was jobless because the orchestra where he played cello was dismissed). And, when his wife discovers in what consists his job, and tries to force him to quit, he has grown so much that he chooses to keep the job instead to yield to his wife menaces.
5. The way Daigo grows and which leads him back to play the cello and celebrate life more than ever, playing outdoors and playing at home as he used to do when he was a boy.
6. The way Daigo wife grows when she has the opportunity to look close to the job of her husband, and begins to admire him and love him more. Wife who have the opportunity to convince Daigo to take care of his dead father, when Daigo runs away when he gets aware of his father death. Wife, who, when the opportunity showed up, says with pride to the individuals of the funeral, that were almost doing a dirty job with the deceased Daigo father, "my husband will take care of him, he is a professional"
7. The way Daigo grows when he encounter again the love for his father and forgive him for having abandoned the family, while he prepares his old man for the burial.
8. How death can be seen as part of life process, when it causes some people to become aware of how much love they missed, and how much they have been loved without being aware of it.
All this happens because Daigo goes back to his hometown, a small town. That is, the return to his origins helps to renew the ties with the traditions and helps the character to put himself together again.
I'm omitting many precious details that appear throughout the film. These details must be seen personally, because the film was made with great sensitivity and expertise, and deserves to be seen.
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