Thanks to PopSugar, who is attending some Tribeca Film Festival screenings and writing reviews for me this week!
Departures won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year, and when I caught it last Friday at the Tribeca Film Festival, I quickly saw why it deserved the honor. The Japanese film centers around a man named Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki), a cellist who moves back to his rural hometown with his wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) after his orchestra in Tokyo is forced to shut down.
When he returns home, Kobayashi gives up his life of being a musician and responds to a want ad looking for someone to work "with departures." Instead of it being a travel agency like he expected, the ad turns out to be a misprint; in fact, the job is working with "the departed." Undertakers hire the company to prepare dead bodies for casketing and then cremation. Although it sounds morbid, the movie has very humorous moments as Kobayashi learns the ins and outs of the trade, but where it is funny it's also sad.
Kobayashi is ashamed of his new job and goes to great efforts to lie about what he is doing to his unsuspecting and loving wife. Kobayashi's boss, Ikuei Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki), is a man of few words, but when he does speak, his meaningful moments are peppered with an unexpected dry humor. Ikuei also provides emotional, respectful, and touching moments as he performs an encoffinment with the family of the deceased looking on. For more of my thoughts on Departures, just read more.
The movie's "departures" aren't restricted to Kobayashi's career — during the film, he wonders if his current situation is punishment for not taking care of his own dying mother years earlier. His father left his family when he was 6, and as viewers, we watch him learn from his new father figure — his boss. As the ritual of encoffinment becomes more familiar, it's hard not to feel the families' stages of grief as they say goodbye to their loved ones. The acting is superb, and the musical score only enhances the many emotions one feels when watching this powerful movie. The end feels a little drawn out, but all in all, director Yojiro Takita has put together a wonderful portrayal of how the living deal with death and love.