This was a bad time for the young couple. He played the cello in a small provincial orchestra. Their audience is scarce. The owner of the orchestra sadly told them that it should be closed. He came home and told his wife. There’s more bad news. He had recently bought a new cello, paying far more than they could afford. He didn’t tell her because he knew she was going to say it was a bad idea. Now he knows.
The opening scene of “Departures” (2009) does not give any clues in which direction the film will take. We have no way of knowing, and neither do they, that this is the beginning of a profound journey of growth and discovery, brought about through the instruments of death.
I screened Yojiro Takita’s film at Ebertfest 2010, and it had as much impact as any film in the festival’s history. In the end the audience rises as one person. Lots of rapturous applause. This one is long, hard and passionate. That alone has nothing to do with making great movies, and 2011 might seem too early to include a 2009 film in this collection of Great Movies. I included it because after looking in three times I was convinced that “Departure” would hold its power and appeal.
Japanese cinema provides a special place for death. In films such as Kurosawa’s “Ikiru”, Ozu’s “Tokyo Story”, Itami’s “Ososhiki” (“The Funeral”), and Kore Eda’s “Maborosi” and “After Life”, this is dealt with within the framework of a different life. sustainable. There is sorrow, but not hopeless sorrow. Grief is channeled into rituals that provide comfort. There is no great focus on the afterlife. Attention is focused on the survivors and the meaning of life that has just ended. Watching “Departures” again recently, I remembered these words spoken in Errol Morris’s “Gates of Heaven:”:
The hero of “Departure” is Daigo (Masahiro Motoki), an impulsive, fun, easy-to-read young man. When disaster strikes, she quickly agrees that they should return to the small town where she was born and move into her childhood home, which was left for her after her mother’s recent death. He sold expensive cellos and they went on a trip. This is a defeat for him: Unemployment, not even having an instrument, is back where he started.
Looking into the job advertisement, he finds a promising offer that sounds like a travel agency. Daigo proposes in a quiet small office run by an assistant (Yo Kimiko), and soon the owner, Mr. Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki), shows up. The interview is short. He got a job and an advance. He found an agent handling travel, all right — to the next world. This is the “imprisonment”, or endeavor, of business.
Before he could absorb this idea, Daigo was brought in by his new boss to observe the process. To me it’s more human than the practice of embalming outside of Western views and so on. The deceased’s body is displayed on a mat in front of the mourners, who kneel together and watch the preparation process. This is a proper ritual and grace ceremony. Carefully arranged sheets protect the privacy of the deceased while the body is bathed and groomed. Then the faces are created with exquisite attention to detail. Finally the corpse was placed in a simple wooden coffin. Most of the family remains silent, but there are occasional outbursts of emotion — or truth — and young Daigo begins to learn life’s lessons.
He put off telling his wife about the job, because it would surprise him. Doing is an important job in Japan, in my opinion, but not a respectable job. In his childhood home they grew closer than ever, and played old LP records his father left him. He expressed his bitterness towards the man, who disappeared and never contacted the family again. Mika is content until the day she discovers what her husband does for a living. As much as she loved him, she told him she had to leave him; she didn’t even want to be touched by a man preparing for death.