Monday, September 21, 2009

"Departures" (Language - Japanese) (2008) - Movie Review

“Departures” will be the second film after “The Barbarian Invasions” to give the death a certain awe and affection. This Japanese film which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Films in 2008 has tragedy happening at five minute intervals because the lead man Daigo Kobayashi’s (Masahiro Motoki) new job involves funerals. And there are many of those, each of them moving us to tears and an appreciation for the art of their job whenever Daigo and his master Shōei Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki) work on the dead souls.

Fortunately I have only witnessed few funerals so far but the visceral emotional response I had when a relative of mine was washed with her daughters crying would never go away. There was tragedy incomparable when a loved one departs. In a deadly cold winter is Daigo driving the car narrating that it has been two months since he moved away from Tokyo. They arrive where the body remains of a young girl. Pleasant and beautiful and it is a suicide. All this beauty dissolved by itself and Sasaki allows his subordinate to do this job. More than the intricate nuance in which Daigo undresses the body in front of the loved ones without an inch of the skin exposed, the hand movements in performing those tasks carries a gentleness which comes from a care for the deceased and a respect for the audience in that room.

Daigo was not a born encoffinement expert rather he had no linkage of such a career change from what he was doing. Not that there is a code and sign for an individual to be destined as the profession of encoffinement but Daigo handled the beauty of an instrument, Cello. He has been playing the instrument from very early age but his orchestra in Tokyo gets shutdown. He has hit a point wherein the music he dreamt and passionate about does not appeal any more in the sadness of the defeat. With no other means to fund the loan on the expensive Cello he bought, he tells the only option is to move back to his native Yamagata where his mother’s inheritance of a house will at least provide them shelter. His wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) cheerfully supports despite her having a job in Tokyo. This change will bring Daigo closer to death, well not for him but for the process and develop a strange affection as he continues in the work.

Yōjirō Takita, the director leans on the beauty of this skill. The actor Motoki plays the Cello and performs the art of dressing up the dead with a finesse he mastered specifically for the film. His interview consists of a single question whether he will work hard. And then an advance for simply showing up leaves him to see where this leads. His first assignment unfortunately becomes too much. The first job does not involve the awkwardness of being speechless in a room full of grieving, but an old lonely woman decomposed for a sufficiently long time. The stench of the room is nauseating and the master Sasaki who was tender and soft spoken suddenly commands in the worst harshest way possible. But that is the only way Daigo is going to get through it. And he comes home to feel the living in his wife. He smells and literally tries paint her body all over his to remind that the skin and flesh retain the sense he has known for. She does not know why he is behaving like that because Daigo did not tell her about the job.

“Departures” marginally appears to be the sappy tragic story which begs to feel for the funerals they visit and it is no surprise that at some point Daigo has to do the ritual to a close person to him. Yet whenever he is done with the dead making them into who were they when they were breathing, we empathize with the sudden emotional surge in the loved ones. They resurrect that temporary appearance one last time for the people surrounding to remember.

The death which has an impact people could never get over can be used in films as a last attempt on sympathy. That sympathy is for the film which would bludgeon from the audience of its last resort. But in “Departures” it is the film which shows as it is. It beautifies how much ever external it is and how it transpires Daigo into a liking for his another art, music. Suddenly he begins to enjoy playing the instrument as he used to. The movie deals how the taboo of dealing with the death does to Daigo making his wife to leave a friend to looked down upon. And when both of those realize their mistake, it is not communicated but purely felt by each other. “Departures” does that with its audience when the film gets over. We feel a great deal of everything in death, in music, in art and in human acceptance of the inevitability.

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