Departures (2008)

Departurers Poster

Departures – IMDb 245/250

With moving house, starting a new job and my general lazy attitude, I haven’t gotten around for a long while to write or watch any of my IMDb top 250. (At the rate I’m going I should have finished the list by 2070).

But I know how desperately people crave for my film reviews so I’ve made the time to write my review for the Japanese drama film Departures, starring Masahiro Motoki, Ryōko Hirosue, and Tsutomu Yamazaki.

Departures tells the story of Daigo Kobayashi, a cellist who loses his job as part of an orchestra and decides to move back to his home town with his wife and live in his former childhood home. Looking for work, Daigo reluctantly finds a job preparing bodies for cremation, a job which holds a lot of social taboo and prejudice in Japan, thus Daigo decides to keep his job a secret from his wife.

As Daigo learns and gains more experience about the encoffining ceremony from his employer, Sasaki, played wonderfully by Tsutomu Yamazaki, he realises what beauty and love goes into preparing the bodies, shown through several truly majestic, encapsulating pieces highlighting what an encoffining ceremony truly is, and how people’s perceptions of those that handle the dead aren’t understanding what the ceremony is really about, the love and respect you had for the person you’ve lost.

The first word that comes to mind when describing Departures is beautiful. From the way it is shot, to the subject matter, the music, the acting performances, everything about the film has a real beauty about it which gives the film a lovely flow and helped me invest fully in the story and its message, despite it being about a subject matter which doesn’t hold the same taboo in England as it does in Japan.

I truly loved every encoffining scene as you see Daigo, and eventually his family and friends around him, learn to appreciate its beauty, in the same way that we do watching the film. The music that plays throughout each scene just perfectly matches the sentiment of the ceremony, which is just one example of how well the music works alongside the film, with the cello piece that Daigo plays for his wife a stand-out moment for me, and made me better appreciate the instrument (my only other cello experience in cinema is the Bond film Living Daylights – its use as a sledge was vastly different.)

The quiet beauty of a 'Nokanshi'

The quiet beauty of a ‘Nokanshi’ – A traditional Japanese mortician – performing an encoffining

Another way to describe Departures is genuinely funny. The performances of the principal cast during the dramatic moments are overall good, but it is in its comedic moments where the acting truly comes alive. Motoki’s performance as Daigo is very funny, if a little over the top at times, but Yamazaki in his very subtle way manages to steal most of the scenes in which he is in.

The main criticism the film has received has been regarding its tendency to be over sentimental and perhaps a little moralising in its portrayal of humanity, family and death. But I think this is doing the film a disservice.

I think any director would find it hard to portray the scenes involving the death of a family member, or of a funeral as something other than very sentimental. It’s like being excited to see a Michael Bay film and being disappointed when it has too many action sequences.

Perhaps Departures is a bit too nice, a bit overly sweet, but like a chocolate sauce covered chocolate torte with a bowl of sugar on the side, sometimes it’s hard not to enjoy something extra sweet.

At just over two hours I never found myself bored, and like any great films with subtitles my concentration remained throughout.

I can say I thoroughly enjoyed Departures, and I would recommend it to anyone who was looking for a first taste of Japanese cinema.

My Rating: 8/10



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