Departures (おくりびと, Okuribito) is a multiple award winning Japanese movie and winner of the best foreign language film at the Academy Awards in 2009.
Directed by Yojiro Takita and starring Masahiro Motoki, the movie follows the story of a nokanshi whose job is to prepare the death for encoffinment. Other cast include Ryoko Hirosue, Tsutomu Yamazaki and Kimiko Yo etc.
Synopsis – The movie starts with Sasaki (Yamazaki) and his apprentice Daigo (Motoki) engaging in a traditional ritual to clean and dress a dead body for her final “departure”. The story then flashes back to how it all started…
Daigo was a cellist in Tokyo, but was jobless after the disbandment of his orchestra, which prompted him to give up his musician dream. After selling his cello to clear his debts, Daigo moved back to his hometown in Sakata with his wife Mika (Hirosue) to begin a new life.
He went for an interview which he thought was a job in a travel agency, but turned out to be a vacancy for a funeral ceremonial company. Although reluctant, he took the job anyway because he was dead broke.
Daigo’s early assignments didn’t start off well, but he gradually learned about the joy and job fulfilment in helping the family in grievances by preparing the death for their final journey in a respectful and elegant manner.
Just as Daigo began to enjoy his new life, Mika found out about his work and demanded him to quit his job which is seen by many as taboo in Japan. After Daigo’s silent refusal, Mika decided to leave him… and Daigo continued his journey as a nokanshi (including the funeral at the beginning of the movie).
Some weeks later, Mika was back and told Daigo that she’s pregnant; and while the couple was in an awkward moment (wife insisted on him quitting the job), Daigo received a call that he’s needed for the encoffinment of a close family friend. Mika, who followed Daigo to the funeral, began to understand the real purpose of Daigo’s job, and showed respect to what he was doing.
The story ended with Daigo performing the ritual for his deceased father who left his family when Daigo was just a kid to run off with another woman. And through the ceremony, Daigo rediscovered his love for his father, and learned to forgive and looked forward to the future.
The story is themed on death and funerals, which are always emotional; but the director didn’t overemphasis on throwing tear-bombs and instead tried to send other hidden messages… about love, forgiveness, hope and peace of mind.
It’s not a highly entertaining film, but certainly an enlightening one. There’s no climax, but simple story telling in a beautiful and artistic manner, with Joe Hisashi’s music adding icing on the cake, plus a lovely ending that’ll put a smile on everyone’s face.
Director: Yojiro Takita – Screenplay: Kundo Koyama – Executive producer: Yasuhiro Mase – Producer: Toshiaki Nakazawa – Music: Joe Hisaishi – Director of Photography: Takeshi Hamada – Lighting: Hitoshi Takaya – Production Design: Fumio Ogawa – Editing: Akimasa Kawashima – Cast: Masahiro Motoki, Ryoko Hirosue, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Kimiko Yo, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Takashi Sasano