Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki), a devoted cellist in an orchestra that has just been dissolved, is left suddenly without a job. Daigo decides to move back to his old hometown with his wife, Mika (Hirosue Ryoko) to look for work and start over. He answers a classified ad entitled "Departures" thinking it is an advertisement for a travel agency, only to discover that the job is actually for a "Nokanshi" or "encoffineer," a funeral professional who prepares deceased bodies for burial and entry into the next life. While his wife and others despise the job, Daigo takes a certain pride in his work and begins to perfect the art of "Nokanshi," acting as a gentle gatekeeper between life and death, between the departed and the family of the departed.
Who would have thought that sweetie pie Ryoko Hirosue from the popular Japanese TV series “Long Vacation” and “Beach Boys” would star in this movie about death and life? Who would have thought that this film would be a big winner at the Japan Academy Awards, brining home 10 trophies? And most important of all, who would have thought that this film from the Land of the Rising Sun would bring home the Oscar for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards?
Not this reviewer, at least (he was placing his bet on Israeli animated documentary film Waltz for Bashir, but this is another issue altogether).
Director Yojiro Takita (Onmyoji: The Yin Yang Master, Blood Gets in Your Eyes) directs Masahiro Motoki (The Longest Night in Shanghai, Shall We Dance?) as an unemployed cellist who takes on the job of preparing the dead for funerals, and in the process learning invaluable lessons about life and death. Although he faces disapproving sentiments from his wife (Hirosue in an underrated performance), and other close friends and family around him, he sees the importance and dignity of his job, pressing on as each death case is made known to him. You can expect tears to flow, emotions to run high, and yes, people to die.
The 131 minute film takes a slow and plodding path to tell audiences how life and death are a fine line apart, and how we should make the most out of what we have to make everyday worthwhile. Although this is something which most people would already know, this well made film takes its time to develop its story and characters, never once hurrying to reach the predictable finale. You can almost call it manupalitive on the filmmakers’ part, but this is one formula which works, and hey, it did bring home the coveted Oscar statuette, didn’t it?
The Japanese also have their way to make their films look really good on screen, and this production is one fine example. The exquisiteness and well crafted visuals soaringly bring out the themes of the film without succumbing to attention seeking loud explosions and gripping car chases. The engaging music score by Joe Hisaishi (Ponyo on the Cliff, The Sun Also Rises) will also sweep you off your feet. The presentation is slow and steady, and viewers would be brought along for the ride with the protagonist on his journey to discover what life is really all about. Watch out for the scene where he plays a cello in the plains, it will touch the most cynical Scrooge in you.
SPECIAL FEATURES :
This Code 3 DVD contains no extra features.
There is nothing to complain about the disc’s visual transfer. The movie is presented in its original Japanese dialogue.
by John Li
Posted on 21 August 2009