Thursday, July 29, 2010


" DEPARTURES", is the movie that won the Oscar for 2009, for best foreign film, directed by Yojiro Takita.  One might say this is a film about anticipation and ceremony, and how ceremony brings order to our lives.  Without ceremony, we are perhaps hardwired to veer in the direction of chaos.   Ceremony gives a shape to joyous situations and to grief.  We embellish the important moments with more than our religion, spirituality, or culture.  We give it a form, a pattern that is followed through the ages.  There are the ceremonies we look forward to, or the ones we seek to avoid.

A young man, Daigo, is a cellist in a symphony orchestra.  The movie begins with the triumphant sound of Beethoven's 9th.  Shortly after the final crescendo, the orchestra is assembled and notified that they are bankrupt and will be dissolved.

Daigo and his wife Mika, decide to move back to the town where his childhood home has been willed to him by his mother.  Not able to find work, he answers an ad that states, "departures", which he thinks is for a travel agency.  He is shocked to find out that the job entails the preparation of the dead for the final journey.  Through necessity but with revulsion, he takes the job of "encoffinment", but hides this fact from Mika.  It is considered to be a job of very low prestige. 

The movie finds great respect for the ritual of preparing the deceased for "encoffinment".  The preparation is done with tender ceremony and reverence, in front of the grieving relatives and friends.  The transition focuses on the dignity of the newly prepared and the acceptance by the relatives. The wonder of grace occurs before our eyes.

Daigo's need to support himself brings conflict to his marriage, and an old inner conflict haunts him also, anger for an early abandonment by his father when he was only six years old.  Loss and reconciliation become a large part of Daigo's journey.

The subtle acting of everyone in this film, which is sad and surprisingly humorous at times, takes us on a trip we are all naturally a part of.  Perhaps Japanese culture allows a film such as this to be made, whereas our own filmmakers don't really have the unifying background for a movie like this.  There is nothing frightening or sensational, nothing that would cause one to avert ones eyes.  Beautiful landscapes, and the music of the cello weave through the movie, maintaining a vivid balance between the living and the departing. 

I would definitely call this a celebration of life, and finding one's calling.


Sam Liu said...

It sounds like the most wonderful and engaging of films, Lyn, suffused with ideas and profundities. And definitely the sort of movie I'd enjoy. Thank you for sharing it with us :)

Lyn said...

Hi Sam-
It's definitely profound and I can't wait to hear if you found it so...thank you..

Butternut Squash said...

I saw this recently on Netflix. and it was a great movie. I lived in Japan for 3 years and sadly went to two funerals while I was there. I experienced the wake as it was conducted by a grieving husband rather than an undertaker. The movie said so much about Japanese culture. I'm glad to see that it translated across cultures. Thank you for the review.

Lyn said...

Hi Butternut...
Thanks for your comment..We create our own realities..this movie certainly brings that home..
I saw this on Netflix also, at the urging of my brother..I was resistant at first.

alaine@éclectique said...

I'm certain I'd enjoy this and, with the cello in the background, magic! Thank you, Lyn.

joanna said...

I agree with Sam's comment that it looks like an interesting and well wroth while movie to watch. I must tell you though- I had a Déjà vu when I opened your blog page, seeing the photo and reading your words. Still the feeling persisted as I read further. The silly thought came to me if you posted this before-- I know -- but there you have it.

Enjoy the video, and your week end.

Lyn said...

Hi Alaine-
Thank you..I think this is a great film of hope and reconcilliation..and the music!

Lyn said...

Hi joanny-
Well, I love the mystery of deja vu! I never published this before, because I just saw the movie a few days ago..but maybe in an alternate world!!
By the way..your comment seemed to publish what's going on?


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