Its not very often you get the opportunity to see such an invigorating and life affirming film. Departures (2008) is beautifully serene, touching and virtually brings you to tears at times.
The dreams of Professional musician Kobayashi Daigo are shattered when the orchestra he plays for goes bankrupt. He sells his cello and returns with his wife Mika to Yamagata his rural hometown, taking up residence in the house that his dead mother has bequeathed them. Answering a mysterious advert for someone to ‘help with journeys’ which he assumes is something to do with the travel trade, but it turns out to be a vacancy for a "noukanshi" mortician, someone who prepares corpses ready for cremation by ‘performing cleansing and beautifying services in the presence of the bereaved family, a ritual which combines an atmosphere of sympathy and reverence with a magician's sleight of hand’. Although he hides the true nature of his newly found position from his wife he soon realises that he has an aptitude for this work.
Directed by Takita Yojiro the film was ten years in the making and although the original idea came from the lead actor Matoki Masashiro, who plays Daigo, it is reputed to be loosely based on Shinmons Aoki autobiographical book ‘Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician’ Motoki spent months learning to play the cello and studying the art of encoffinment at first hand until he could perform the ritual like a true professional, while Takita attended funeral rituals to gain an understanding of how the families react.
Departures was the surprise winner of the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2009 Oscars. "It's a great audience film," said Japan-based film critic Mark Schilling "It's got comedy, and it’s got emotions. It's dealing with something that everybody has to deal with, but in an unusual and interesting way." It’s certainly in a class of its own, head and shoulders above most other films your see and It’s not often that you sit through Japanese credits just to listen to its wonderful soundtrack, cinema at its very best, a film not to be missed.