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.