With the breakup of his Tokyo orchestra, Daigo, a young cellist, decides to return with his adoring wife Mika to his hometown in Japan’s far north. Searching for work, he responds to a cryptic classified ad for work in “Departures” only to find out that the position is in the field of “encoffining,” the ritual preparation of a corpse before it is placed in a casket for cremation. Daigo gradually takes to the work and finds he has a real talent, but he is too ashamed to tell Mika, leaving him torn between his true calling and his marriage.
Winner of the Academy Award® for best foreign language film this year, Departures achieves a pleasingly droll blend of screwball-like humor with a moving story about reconciliation, acceptance, and finding one’s place in the world, enhanced by a richly orchestrated score. By taking us into the uniquely Japanese tradition of the “Nokanshi”-who washes, dresses, and grooms the dead body in front of the deceased’s family, helping the living to bid farewell and the dead to move on to the next world-director Yojiro Takita also offers a refreshingly light and life-affirming vision of how we can reconcile ourselves with death and dying. (mubi)
The movie starts with Sasaki (Yamazaki) and his apprentice Daigo (Motoki) engaging in a traditional ritual to clean and dress a dead body for her final ‘departure’… the story then flashes back to how it all begins…
Daigo was a cellist in Tokyo, but was jobless after the disbandment of his orchestra, which prompted him to give up his musician dream.
After selling his cello to clear his debts, Daigo moved back to his hometown in Sakata with his wife Mika (Hirosue) to begin a new life.
He went for an interview which he thought was a job in a travel agency, but turned out to be a vacancy for a funeral ceremonial company. But he took the job anyway; probably tempted by the decent salary, and that he didn’t have much option anyway.
Daigo’s early assignments didn’t start off well, but he gradually learned about the joy and job fulfilment in helping the family in grievances by preparing the death for their final journey in a respectful and elegant manner.
Just as Daigo began to enjoy his new life, Mika found out about his work and demanded him to quit his job which is seen by many as taboo in Japan. After Daigo’s silent refusal, Mika decided to leave him… and Daigo continued his journey as a nokanshi (including the funeral at the beginning of the movie).
A couple of weeks (or month) later, Mika was back and told Daigo that she’s pregnant; and while the couple was in an awkward moment about him quitting his job, Daigo received a call that he’s needed for the encoffinment of a close family friend.
Mika, who followed Daigo to the funeral, began to understand the real purpose of Daigo’s job, and showed respect to what he was doing.
The story ends with Daigo performing the ritual for his deceased father who left his family when Daigo was just a kid to run off with another woman. And through the ceremony, Daigo rediscovered his love for his father, and learned to forgive and looked forward to the future.
The story is themed on death and funerals, which are always emotional; but the director didn’t overemphasis on the tear-bombs and tried to send other hidden messages instead… about love, forgiveness, hope and peace of mind.
It’s not a highly entertaining film, but certainly an enlightening one. There’s no climax in the movie, but simple story telling in a beautiful and artistic manner, with Joe Hisashi’s music adding icing on the cake… and a lovely ending that’ll put a smile on everyone’s face.