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By now almost everyone would have heard of this Japanese film Okuribito
(Departures), given its win in the recent Academy Awards, clinching the
Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, beating the likes of crowd
favourite Waltzing With Bashir, and the Palme D'or winner The Class.
And now after watching it, it's no surprise really, because if I were
to go tongue in cheek, it's the novelty factor, given that the Academy
would never have conceived upon the notion that a film coming from Asia
and filled with death, corpses and coffins, would be anything but a
horror film. Seriously though, Departures have Awards written all over
it, with fine acting complementing a strong story to tell.
I suppose the equivalent of a "casketer" in local context, would be the embalmer. And it's without a doubt a profession most misunderstood, and shunned because of our innate fear of death. We choose to avoid death where it had gone, and being an embalmer would unlikely be on any kid's wish list of professions. Despite the stereotypical negative connotations, it is a profession that is quite dignified, because the professional is entrusted with the responsibility of helping the loved ones of the deceased cope with the passing on, and to help ease the pain in bringing some colour before the final journey to either the burial ground, or crematorium.
Departures demystifies this profession in the Japanese context. And like all things Japanese, the process comes with an elaborate ritual of preparation, cleansing and presentation, all done with great precision, skillful grace and utmost respect for both the deceased, and the family members. The profession depicted here in the film, is one of the highest order, where we see exactly how the casketers go about their job, and the separation of duties with the undertaker.
Masahiro Motoki (last seen in The Longest Night in Shanghai) stars as the lead protagonist Daigo Kobayashi, a cellist in an orchestra who dreams of going places around the world with his wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) in tow. Unfortunately for him, his orchestra folds and he is forced to sell his expensive white elephant since he doubts he could make his passion into a successful career. Dejected, he convinces his wife to retreat back into the small town he came from, living in the house his late mother had left behind, in order to start a new life. Little did he know when responding to a job classifieds that a typo had given him the impression he would be in a career that involves travel. The boss of the shop Ikuei Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki) hires him on instinct, and as the saying goes, the rest is history.
For the curious, the film is an excellent medium to showcase the profession and to do so in good light. We come to learn the craft behind the job, and the necessity of it all, be it dealing with grieving family members, or taking care of bodies that are bound for autopsies. Departures paints through Daigo's experience, the varying spectrum of emotions that one as a service provider would have to face, as we journey with him from novice level. All's not doom and gloom of course, as director Yujiro Takita paced the film with well meaning humour again never slapstick or disrespectful throughout the narrative.
The story by Kundo Koyama also excellently portrayed Daigo's relationships with his wife and with his mentor, where the former was like a rubber band waiting to snap because of Daigo's deliberate attempts to not tell his lovely wife what he's up to for a career in order to shield her from the taboo. With the latter from whom he picks up the tools of the trade from, there's a surrogate father figure which he never had while growing up, resulting in some pent up hatred toward his dad who walked out on the family when he was young.
It's an extremely moving piece of drama that doesn't get bogged down by melodrama, and I thoroughly enjoyed its themes of reconciliation, forgiveness and best of all, being a professional and serving with pride. It's a fantastically crafted film with an excellent cast all round, and shatters all taboos that come with the profession of a "casketer". I know it's cliché to say this, but Departures will be a strong contender when I compile my list of top films for the year. It's been some time already where I'm equally entertained and moved by a film, and without a doubt, do not let this depart from our local cinemas before you get a chance to watch it on the big screen. Highly recommended!
"Okuribito", literally "The person who sees off", is about a supposedly
untalented cellist's new job. After returning to hometown as a failure
in the music world, he applies for a job with vague description. It
turns out to be a job posting for "encoffiner", a person who performs
rites and rituals before placing the body into the coffin. A 'tainted'
job in the eyes of the society, but he eventually develops pride and
purpose in this profession.
The movie started with subtle humor that had me chuckling for first hour, but I was slowly drawn into the story. It turned out to be a very touching and deep film.
The acting in this film was superb. Motoki Tomohiro's performance was especially amazing, hilarious at times, and played the serious and professional scenes very convincingly. I also really liked his narration, which really sets the mood and tone of the following scenes. Yamazaki Tsutomu was also excellent as the protagonist's cool mentor. The film had incredibly nice flow and very well-directed. Music in this movie played a huge role, expressing the protagonist's feelings and harmonized with every scene. It was simply beautiful.
This movie gave me a glimpse of the profession of "encoffiner", as a very respectable job, as it requires absolute accuracy, professionalism, and the respect for the dead even though it is looked down by the society. It is the encoffiner who sees off a person's last journey after dressing them up. This movie successfully depicts the pride in one's job, and questions the meaning of death.
Probably the best movie I've ever seen. I have seen it at the 32nd Montreal World Film Festival and I hope it'll be well awarded! Even though the plot line is the "death", it's done with such kindness, softness and emotion (every little thing in the Japanese culture is made like a piece of art) and being able to make us feel so much emotions concerning the subject was really enjoyable. It's really a must see, the music is so captivating in every moment of grief. I had to hold my tears 5 times at least. I was also glad to see Tsutomu Yamazaki, I hadn't saw him since Tampopo... that was years ago (there are not a lot of Japanese movies to see in french theaters.)
It had been years ago since a movie moved me so much that it had
brought tears to my eyes, but I couldn't keep my eyes dry while
experiencing Okuribito. The story, acting, music and photography are
all very impressive.
I guess everyone can in some way relate to the emotions that are conveyed in Okuribito. In my humble opinion this movie is a classic in the likes of Akira Kurosawa's and Yasujiro Ozu's best work: subtle, elegant, serene, soulful, touching and timelessly beautiful. This kind of cinematic storytelling stands high above the usual formula-driven, soulless, commercial Hollywood crap.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
easily the best movie i have seen in a long while. i just saw this
movie during the 2008 Montreal world film festival. it is about a
cellist(Daigo)who loses his job and must move back to his hometown.
once back there he reconnects with his past, and comes to terms with
his life, love and dreams.
desperate to find a job, he answers an ad listed under departures, which turns out to be misspelled. it was supposed to say the departed, the job pertains to dressing, washing, and putting makeup on the deceased before the funeral.
it is a job that most people look down upon because you earn money when someone dies. At first Daigo, does not like his job but little by little he comes to a new understanding of it. the process of prepping the corpse is shown in detail within the context of the story, and little by little we too as an audience get sucked in. it is an incredible ceremony to witness. the undertaker handles the corpse with the utmost reverence and care, every touch of the deceased is done with care and always with perfect precision. we realized as we watch that the deceased are shown the the utmost and ultimate respect before they leave us for good. it is a beautiful and solemn act that will make you cry.
there are many other subplots that all tie up at the end bringing everything full circle. watching this movie one does not feel like we are preached to yet it is powerfully effective in making us realize how every moment is precious and we should not take things for granted. so ironic, a new comprehension on life while communing with death...
this movie will not likely be shown in north America, but if you have the chance to see it i do recommend it strongly
Almost three decades since starring in Juzo Itami's classic The
Funeral, Tsutomu Yamazaki once more shines in a tale woven around the
rituals, traditions and theatre involved in Japanese death rites. The
irreverence that makes Itami's classic such a delight is present here.
Daigo's first day on the job playing a stiff in a DVD for the funeral
business comes back to haunt him in hilarious fashion later on.
However, there is also reverence, the film respectfully pointing out
that the people who do this necessary but thankless task do not deserve
the disdain and revulsion that their profession often attracts.
Daigo loses his job as a cellist, returns to his inaka roots and stumbles into a job as an undertaker. Too ashamed to tell his wife, he slowly warms to his apprenticeship under the masterful tutelage of Sasaki. As he goes about his business, the inevitable traumas of a childhood long forgotten bubble to the surface as he goes about re-acquainting himself with the town. The conduit for the negative feelings towards his profession is Daigo's wife Mika, who takes punitive steps on discovering his new employment.
Screenwriter Kundo Koyama has to take credit for a script that moves along briskly, juxtaposing black farce with raw tenderness, all done seamlessly, and acutely observed. Lipstick on a corpse produces gales of laughter, and you are reminded that sometimes the best fun is had at funerals. Daigo moves towards a form of reconciliation and redemption through the promptings of those around him, and the comfort of his cello.
It would be all too easy for material like this to lurch into sappy sentimentality, but the film tugs at the heartstrings without overtly manipulating its audience. Motoki has to take some plaudits for this for a performance that amuses at times but hints at deep inner turmoil at others. Hirosue is less consistent, at times indulging in the head-bobbing, giggly, saccharine sweet girlishness that is the forte of the Japanese TV drama actress. She has one line in the climactic scene of such stunning obviousness I am surprised it stayed in, but for the most part she redeems herself in the tense interactions with Motoki over their differing views on his new career. Overall, she convinces as the supportive but put-upon wife.
From Kurosawa's Ikiru through The Funeral and now Okuribito, Japanese cinema has a rich vein of movies that exploit the rituals of death. How those rituals comfort us, enchant us, and see us through to a place where the pain still exists but might come to an end, is laid bare in Okuribito. It is an absorbing, moving tale, full of laughter and tears, that celebrates the intricate details of a Japanese rites of passage while laying bare their universal function. Best seen in the cinema, to get the full effect of the luscious orchestral score.
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.
Beautiful and touching movie about life and death. My favorite movies dealing with the same issue are Akira Kurosawa's "Ikiru" and "Red Beard". Also, Juzo Itami's comedy "Funeral" is pretty good one. Same as these master's works, Director Takita successfully put good comedy elements in this serious film. The idea "Death is a gate for another world" may be based on Buddhism belief, but I am sure you can relate yourself to this story with your own experience of losing somebody important. Masahiro Motoki was at his best for the leading role. He once played similar role in "Sumo Do, Sumo Don't" by Director Masayuki Suo (Shall We Dansu?) in terms of being put in awkward situation, involved seriously and end up finding the virtue in it. Music score is by Joe Hisaishi. Great as always. He has done great jobs on films for Takeshi Kitano and Hayao Miyazaki. I am sure this will be the best Japanese movie in 2008. 10/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Wonderful movie. I was moved. The subject of the movie is a profession
called 'Nokanshi', which is to cleanse, dress and make up a corpse
before it is placed in a coffin. Centered in this profession, the story
is strong and understandable. All side stories are effectively woven.
This movie taught me that death is not a simple end of life, but it
could even trigger reconciliation of those who hate someone.
Everyone dislikes a job to touch corpses. Therefore the classified advertisement is vague and the job interview is precarious, and the protagonist is fooled to join this business. In the classified ad, it said 'Tabi no otetsudai (Assisting travels)', but the boss said it is a typo and he corrected it to 'Tabidachi no otetsudai (Assisting departures)'. Then the protagonist faces miserable debut scene with rotten corpse left 2 weeks after death. But there are many humorous scenes in the first half, audiences get drawn into the story. Then he experiences some impressive episodes of nokanshi's work, and his father who abandoned him is mentioned.
Normally I don't cry at movies. But in this movie tears filled my eyes at several scenes, though it is never a so-called tearjerker film.
As for acting performances, Motoki Masahiro's acting is marvelous as well as his performance as a nokanshi. Yamazaki Tsutomu is the best casting too. However, for the wife of the protagonist, I think Hirosue Ryoko is too pretty and girlish and her acting is shallow.
Many things can be told about this movie;How it remarkably handle the "Dead" issue, Meaning of life, family relations etc... But What I've mostly grasped from the movie is (I also witnessed that during my 6 months of stay in Japan) that the way the Japanese people do their job. Absolutely devoted, in perfect patience and discipline. No matter What they are doing and What the salary is... They could be a Waitress,a Garbage man or as in the movie; an encoffiner. They just concentrate and do their job. So if you got bored from your job, I simply recommend you watch this movie and compare yourself with the Guy in the Lead role.And think again.
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