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Okuribito (Departures)

Departures is a 2008 Japanese film by Yōjirō Takita. It won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.

Departures tells the story of Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki), a cellist in a symphony orchestra in Tokyo. When his orchestra disbanded leaving him jobless, he decided to move back to his hometown in the countryside with his sweet wife Mika. There, he finds an ad in the paper for a job dealing with “departures”. Excited about going into what he expects to be a career in the travel industry, he goes to the interview and gets the job on the spot before even knowing what exactly it is. To his surprise, he then learns that his job involves the preparation of dead bodies for their departure to the afterlife through the ritual of encoffinment. Daigo reluctantly takes the job, but doesn’t tell his wife, thinking she wouldn’t approve. Because his job is regarded as shameful and unclean, he tried to keep it a secret and struggles to reconcile this secret life with his relationship with his wife and the people around them. At first, Daigo dislikes being an encoffiner but slowly, he learns to value the importance of his work and the role he plays in sending the departed to their final destination with dignity, giving solace to the ones they leave behind. The film reaches its emotional height in its very moving and beautiful last act.

This movie presents a glimpse of Japan’s culture and demonstrates how proud the Japanese are as a people, shown by the way they regard the job of an “undertaker”. I understand that the premise of this film is taboo in Japan and it could very well be a dark and depressing movie about death but what makes this film truly remarkable is how such a supposedly taboo subject was delicately crafted by director Yōjirō Takita into a beautiful and unique work of art that it is both aesthetically pleasing and heartwarming. I found it absolutely mesmerizing to watch the ritual of encoffinment. The preparation ceremony is done with utmost care and reverence for the dead making the whole ritual a graceful and meticulous performance, it is almost like watching an elegant dance.

A few factors which made this film a cinematic masterpiece include its subdued cinematography giving off that tranquil and quiet effect, an effective cast delivering a sensitive performance and a very moving musical score. The sweeping cello music amidst the beautiful scenery of Japan’s countryside with green meadows and snow-capped mountains makes this film even more beautiful and emotionally poignant. With its gentle comedy and touching drama sequences, this movie reverberates as an exquisite tale of love and loss. Definitely worth watching.

(dedicated to R.A. 1987-2011)

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