Wednesday, 27 April 2011

"Departures" ~ a Japanese film about a young man's unlikely entry into the funeral business

I'm going to remember this beautifully crafted movie for a very long time.  

The story begins as a young man's dream of a career in music crumbles, when the orchestra in which he plays is unexpectedly dissolved.  
Fate takes Daigo Kobayashi (played by Masahiro Motoki) on an unexpected path to the doors of a funeral business, which he realises too late engages in 'encoffinment', otherwise described as casketing.  This is the Japanese ritual of washing, dressing and applying cosmetics to the deceased and then placing them into their coffins.  The ritual takes place in front of the family and others close to the deceased.  Although it is clearly an art it seems it is not generally considered a desirable career!

Daigo's first inclination is to beat a hasty retreat, but one way and another he is persuaded to continue, and as we see him go about his work we see the many widely differing situations in which people die and this work is carried out. 

Events in the young man's life are chronicled alongside this, taking some surprising twists and turns, and add considerable pathos to the story. 

The portrayal of Ikuei Sasaki by Tsutomu Yamazaki, the man who becomes his boss, is masterfully enigmatic and down to earth.

I didn't expect to enjoy this film, but found that I did very much.   I found it touching as well as enlightening even though it is a story rather than a documentary.  We see the whole gamut of emotions and judgements that people have about death and funerals laid bare.  We also see the importance of this carefully controlled and discrete ritual for those who grieve.

Footage of the handling of the (supposed) deceased is entirely modest, so there are no shocking images of corpses to contend with. 

This movie was released in 2008.  Dialogue is in Japanese with English subtitles.

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