Departures (2008)

Christmas celebration in the workplace

Cellist Kobayashi Daigo (Motoki Masahiro) had his orchestra dissolve around him, so he returned to his hometown with his wife Mika (Hirosue Ryoko). There, he found a job as a nakanshi, or one who prepares the bodies of the recently departed for placement in their coffins.

Departures (おくりびと, okuribito) was the 2009 winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. This was yet another film I put off watching, only this one I regret doing so.

Departures is a movie about finding your niche in life, regardless of how unlikely it is. In the case of Daigo, it was in preparing bodies for cremation. Naturally, the issue did come up with his wife about continuing that as opposed to getting a “normal” job.

Daigo’s mentor Sasaki Ikue (Yamazaki Tsutomu) served as comic relief in addition to teaching Daigo the ropes of his job. What Departures really demonstrated that despite being professionals, Daigo and Ikue treated the dead in a precise, artistic, and, dare I say it, loving way. Many scenes where preparation is under way, the families of the deceased is present. In their little ways, they give the dead ones development. Even in death, these people are treated as full-fledged characters in this movie.

What I adored about Departures was that in every way, it was just perfectly put together. Emotionally, the movie ran the gamut. There were times I thought, “Ok, I hope you stop crying soon because I’m gonna start if you don’t.” Then the movie would follow up with subtle comic relief, usually coming from Ikue. In other words, it didn’t try to do what a certain other movie did by just trying to keep the viewer perpetually depressed. Just about everything that was meant to elicit an emotional response did as exactly it was supposed to, and it was always at the right time in the movie.

With the actual composition of scenes, you have beautiful cinematography of great actors reading great scripts. Motoki was always believable, regardless of what emotion Daigo was feeling. Hirosue also held her own onscreen admirably, being much more than a pretty face (of course, her face was plenty pretty though). But I have to say what I love about a lot of the Japanese films I have seen was how judicious their directors (Ozu Yasujiro, Kurosawa Akira, and Koreeda Hirokazu come to mind) were in using their cameras. Takita Yojiro easily earned his place along the directors I just listed as one of the best cinematographers I have ever had the pleasure of seeing his handiwork on screen.

As you may expect, a movie about a former cellist was full of music. Of course the music was also plenty good. I think it would be accurate to say Joe Hisaishi has a brand new fan. Not only was the score good, but the music was used exactly as it should be, not abused like Iwasaki Taku’s score in Rurouni Kenshin: Seisou-hen. The movie was well aware that there were times when nary a word should be said.

Overall, Departures is a clear-cut winner. Unlike a certain other movie I have seen (*cough* Precious *cough*), I can easily see why Departures won its Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. In fact, I feel sorry for some other movie I have seen in the past because Departures has just replaced it in the top 5 movies I have ever seen. What I just saw was a DVD rental from Netflix. Both because the DVD’s transfer was rather lamentable (The end credits looked particularly pixelated) and because this movie was just so good, I think this movie will be a Blu-Ray purchase in the near future. It is very rare that I can say that I literally found nothing wrong with a movie, and that was the case with Departures.

Score: 4/4