DEPARTURES won this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and America’s been waiting to see what the hype is all about… and that includes me! Originally titled OKURIBITO, the film also won 13 Japan Academy Awards. Well, I finally got to see it last nite at a special screening sponsored by Regent Releasing, the film’s distributor, and promoted by New York-Tokyo and Asian Cinevision.
I’m very happy to say that DEPARTURES is indeed a great movie! It was just what I needed to fill the emptiness that TERMINATOR: SALVATION left me. There’s a nice touch of humor to add some levity to the serious examination of death and dying, or in a word — departures.
Unemployed cello player Daigo Kobayashi (overacted just a little bit by Masahiro Motoki) and his wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue — I like her!) leave Tokyo due to unhappy circumstance. The pair return to Daigo’s small home town in Yamagata and move into Daigo’s deceased mother’s tea house. Somehow Daigo gets a job with with Sasaki (awesomely played by Tsutomu Yamazaki) preparing the dead with an encoffination ceremony before cremation. I’m highly anti-spoiler so that’s all I’ll say in terms of plot.
It’s a bit of a stretch that Daigo ends up working at the encoffination company, but the film finds its way once Daigo settles into his job. We begin to see the importance in what many perceive as such a gruesome line of work. Indeed, Daigo is socially ostracized for his work and does his best to hide the fact. Director Yojiro Takita has gone to great lengths to show the honor of this line of work that many seem to hold in low regard. What some see as profiting off the dead and their families, Yojiro Takita portrays as a necessary and important step in healing and closure. Everyone is someone to somebody, even the lonely fisherman.
Without revealing anything, I wish the film had ended at a different point. By the time of the final funeral, I think myself and the audience were already emotionally drained. The final departure seems almost anti-climatic. Even so I wholeheartedly recommend this movie if you can catch it in a theater near you.
This weekend’s opening theaters are:
Los Angeles: ArcLight Hollywood, 6360 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles: The Landmark, 10850 West Pico, W. LA
San Francisco: Landmark Embarcadero, One Embarcadero Center
San Francisco: Sundance Kabuki, 1881 Post St
San Rafael: Rafael Film Center, 1118 4th St
Chicago: Landmark Century Centre, 2828 North Clark Street
New York City: Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, Broadway btwn 62nd St. & 63RD St
New York City: Landmark Sunshine Cinema, 143 East Houston Street
New York City: City Cinemas 1,2,3, 1001 3rd Ave
Find out more theater openings at the official DEPARTURES American site.
Here’s the American trailer – but I warn you — it has spoilers. I recommend you do NOT watch the trailer and simply go see DEPARTURES. It will be much more enjoyable with fresh eyes.