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DEPARTURES (Okuribito) (Japan)

  Publicity Stills of
(Courtesy of GV)

In Japanese dialogues with English and Chinese subtitles
Director: Yojiro Takita
Cast: Masahiro Motoki, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ryoko Hirosue, Kazuko Yoshiyuki
2 hrs 10 mins
Released By: GV
Rating: PG
Official Website:

Opening Day: 5 March 2009


It’s a story about a cellist (Daigo) who loses his job and must move back to his hometown. Once back there he reconnects with his past, and comes to terms with his life, love and dreams. Desperate to find a job, he answers an ad listed under departures, which turns out to be misspelled. It was supposed to say the departed, the job pertains to dressing, washing, and putting makeup on the deceased before the funeral. It is a job that most people look down upon because you earn money when someone dies. At first Daigo, does not like his job but little by little he comes to a new understanding of it. The process of prepping the corpse is shown in detail within the context of the story, and little by little we too as an audience get sucked in. it is an incredible ceremony to witness.

Movie Review:

Without Death, Life would lose all it’s meaning.

We spend our life wading around, getting from one point to another. Worrying about our jobs, our finance and other trivial matters in life that we often lose our bearings and things that are truly important.

It takes a special movie like Departures to remind us that while Death might be one of the scariest events in life, it could also be one of the serene and touching ways of looking back in the quality of life.

Through the eyes and encounters of a beginner ceremonial encoffining master ( Nokanshi ), Departures peeled off layers of human emotions that arises after one’s death. It subtly dealt with themes like forgiveness, coming to terms with difficult life choices and simply missing someone who had passed on. In it’s subtle ways, it shows how life should be valued by the lives we affect and not by personal wealth or other worldly achievements.

It also dealt with issues such as jobs that are unfairly despised and professionalism in one’s work. On one hand, it presented a relatable perspective on why would a Nokanshi job be scorned by friends and relatives. On the other, Departures took the time to demonstrate the nobility of being a encoffining master and make one wonder why such stigmata is attached to this kind of job. In it’s small and unexpected way, this movie also educate that no matter what kind of jobs that one is performing, be it a despised job, it’s still important to be professional about it and do it with pride.

The human morality and mortality issues here are exemplified with the controlled releasing and withholding of musical score in this movie. One particular scene involving a bereaving husband tearing up in front of his wife stood out. Normally that kind of scene would be accompanied by sad musical score but in Departures case, the musical score was withheld into a suffocating silence that choking all the emotions out from the performer. At the peak of the emotional scene, Joe Hisaishi’s music seeps like rain after a drought and that scene was one of the outstanding usages of beautiful score in recent memories.

However it’s not all gloom and dreary in Departures. It laced with unexpected comedic situations that helps viewers sympathize with the protagonist and grow attached to the various characters in a very short time. From Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki)’s fumbling at his new job (and basically at life in general) to his new boss Shōei Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki) spouting wisdom about this line of work and life, the jokes ease viewers into following a somewhat taboo subject in Asian context and liven the otherwise serious mood in the movie.

Beside those comedic situations, there are also plenty of charming visuals that makes viewing Departures such a pleasure. Viewing the picturesque Sakata-city of the Yamagata prefecture as backdrop for the drama to unfold and pairing of good looking Masahiro Motoki and the very lovely Ryoko Hirosue as Daigo’s wife Mika enables the 2 hours odd Departures to zoom by quickly.

Departures is one of those rare movies that I wish it would not end and yet when it ended; it was done in such a meaningful, beautiful and poignant way that it was a fitting closure of a perfect movie. I understand there’s a danger in overhyping a film up; causing an unreasonable high expectation for this unexpected Oscar winning movie but this is one rare film that mesmerized me from the start to the end. The philosophical subtleties might not be shared or even appreciated by everyone but I really hope that you would give this movie a chance and let it sweep you off your feet as it did for me.

Movie Rating:

(Elegantly Poignant)

Review by Richard Lim Jr


. Tokyo! (2008)

. Accuracy of Death (2008)

. Nada Sou Sou (2007)

. Tony Takitani (2004)

. Crying Out Love in the Center of the World (2004)

. Tokyo Tower DVD (2007)

. Memories of Tomorrow DVD (2007)




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