Under Review: ‘Departures’ (aka ‘Okuribito’)


Bring out your Kleenex, not for sadness or maudlin nostalgia, but for poignant acknowledgment. It’s not loss that will bring tears, but what the significance of death can teach us. “Departures” recognizes the essential power inherent in witnessing the passing to another dimension of life’s voyage.

This film has been recommended to me for the last six months by my writing companion on “Food, Inc.” I explained to him, “I can’t write on it for IJM because its release is not current enough.”

Dr. Yuen, who has lost three dear relatives in the last six months responded patiently, “But this is different. It won’t matter. Send me your review when you are done.”

So we watched it together with a box of tissues he politely set on the coffee table.

“Departures” is a story about helping souls pass through to the Afterlife as well as about helping those they leave behind.

Along with 32 international awards, this startlingly masterful film won the 2009 Oscar for best foreign film.

I think the surprise in its beginning sets the stage for the entire film. What you expect is quickly set upside down – so there is even a little delightful humor in the quirks of human choices and experiences throughout each scene.

A cellist loses his job and must quickly move with his wife back to the town of his youth and the house his mother bequeathed him. He is responsible and wants to get a new job immediately. Through a series of misunderstandings he becomes an unwitting model in a film on how to ritualistically prepare bodies for cremation. From there he learns how to conduct the ancient ceremony of preparing the dead for a last farewell to family members.

It is through his growing expertise in this ceremony, performed in front of the deceased’s family, that he evolves in his own personal life journey.

Dr. Yuen says that it is through this rite, this ritual of final respect, that death, as an event, can end up illuminating something very fundamental regarding the human condition for the living. He explains that this occurs for “both the family of the deceased in the film viewing the process and the audience who is viewing the movie.”

The acting is so sensitive, so superb, that you tear up as you witness yourself defining what is purely good, right, and noble in human conduct. You never cry from sadness. This is the magic of “Departures.” You cry from enrichment and acknowledgment.

Director: Yôjirô Takita
Writer: Kundô Koyama
Release Date: 13 Sept. 2008 (Japan), 29 May 2009 (USA limited)
Genre: Drama
Awards: Won Oscar. Another 32 wins & 6 nominations
Cast: Masahiro Motoki, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ryoko Hirosue, Kazuko Yoshiyiki and Kimiko Yo

Also Known As: “Okuribito” – Japan (original title)
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for thematic material.

Runtime: 130 min

Country: Japan

Language: Japanese with English subtitles

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1 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Mariusz Zubrowski #

    I always enjoy your reviews Bev. I’ve seen this on Netflix but I’ve been sort of putting it off, perhaps I’ll see it now.

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