Bringing Beauty to Death

Monday, March 12, 2012

[This is another old entry that I wrote last November 22, 2010. I was browsing through a list of popular Japanese movies online and I found this title. I remembered I wrote a review about it before, so I'm reposting it here.]

While most people prefer to work in high-paying jobs, most would probably think otherwise when they find out that the job would be dirty work, like tasks that involve the dead. In the film Departures, director Yojiro Takita tugs the heartstrings of his audience as he shows how the Japanese face the issue of loss, death, and acceptance. These three controlling ideas of the movie become evident as the story revolves around a character with a profession that deals with dead people.

When the orchestra that the protagonist, Daigo Kobayashi (portrayed by Masahiro Motoki), works for dissolves, he leaves the city and goes back to his hometown with his wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue). To start off their new life, Daigo scans the newspaper for job ads, and he lands upon an ad that deals with “departures,” which he presumes would be a job related to a travel agency; it also mentions that the job pays high and there is no experience required. He gets accepted for the job immediately after a brief interview with the boss, Mr. Sasaki (Tsutomi Yamazaki). Later on, he finds out the job he has gotten himself into would involve the cleaning and preparing of corpses for burial. After several times he has watched and assisted in the washing and dressing of the bodies, Daigo realizes something significant in his life – the ceremony of sending off the dead might initially seem like a disgraceful or embarrassing profession for some, but it is actually an act performed with precision and gentleness to honor and bring beauty back to the ones who have passed away. Daigo faces the challenge of sticking with his job despite his own wife's disapproval. 

Since the movie shows the loss of a loved one, it had a number of touching scenes. The experiences of Daigo from when he was just a little boy with his dad, until the part where he feels accomplishment in his work, these all build up to the ending, which is a tearjerker for me. The acting was very realistic and the emotions portrayed seemed genuine, like the tears and pain of watching a loved one being cremated – these effectively played with the audience's emotions. The costumes of the actors also contribute to the drama and the realistic element of the film. For instance, the families of the dead would wear black for mourning, and the actors playing as corpses wore traditional Japanese kimonos. They would seem pale and unmoving, but not in a scary way. By watching the film, I, as a viewer, was able to understand and relate more to what the character has been through. I begin to appreciate the ceremony in burying the dead, and how important it is to take extra care when dealing with families that have experienced loss. In terms of music, the background sounds and music are appropriate for the theme of the film. The audience would be able to appreciate classical music more because the protagonist in the movie is a cello player himself. Also at times, there would be complete silence, which reflects the mood of the scene. 

The movie illustrates how death is natural for all of us, and though the subject of death can seem serious and sad, people could still feel like the life of one person is an achievement. The movie also teachers the viewers to realize the significance of honoring the dead and at the same time feel thankful for people in the encoffening profession. The people that do jobs that no one else would be willing to do are actually respectable people. Daigo and Mr. Sasaki are examples of these people who take their jobs seriously. 

All in all, I can say the the film is very moving, especially with the impressively realistic acting. The plot is simple, it evidently shows the theme of death and how the protagonist deals with the irony of life handling dead people. I can say that this film is deserves the Oscar award it has received in 2009 as Best Foreign Language Film of the Year because it goes beyond the cultural barriers of being “Japanese,” it touches even the hearts of other people who watch the film. If you want a film that would make you cry and feel happy at the same time, Departures is definitely a must watch.

Work Cited
Departures [Okuribito]. Screenplay by Kundo Koyama. Dir. Yojiro Takita. Perf. Masahiro Motoki, Ryoko Hirosue, and Tsutomu Yamazaki. Amuse Soft Entertainment, 2008. Film.

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