Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ticket Stubs: Departures

Like most film nerds, I watched the Oscars with a lot of anticipation and predictions. So when the Best Foreign Film category came along, I was hoping The Class was going to beat out Waltz With Bashir because, as I mentioned, I’m a nerd. Yet Departures went home with the golden statue, which left all of America saying, “What in the world is Departures?” It only played at the Hawaii Film Festival in 2008, which qualified it for the Oscars and is only now starting to trickle to theatres across the country.

So now that I’ve seen it, I can safely say: Yes, it deserves the prize. There are a lot of movies about death, but there aren’t many movies that show it in a beautiful light. Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) is a cello player whose orchestra was dismantled so he has to find a new job. He misinterprets an advertisement in the paper and assumes that “departures” refers to a travel agency. It turns out the job is asking for someone to help prepare the dead for their casket. The job is not the most respected in Japanese society, but the pay is incredible so Daigo takes it. However he keeps it a secret from his wife, Mika (Ryoko Hirosue).

Something that I found intriguing was how this process is really an art. The opening scene jumps forward in time when Daigo has been with the job for a while and you see him treat this with the same care and passion as he did with the cello. With this act, the family watches as he prepares the body into their final attire and applies makeup. An act like this could easily be portrayed as tragic but as I alluded to earlier, it’s beautiful. The entire movie is rich with bright blues and greens. The classical music throughout is powerful, but never dark.

It’s a remarkable perspective the movie maintains and is only heightened by the performances. Motoki occasionally trails into cartoonish expressions, but for the most part the nuances he gives in facial expressions is pitch-perfect. Also Hirosue! Seriously, if you don’t fall in love with this performance I’m worried that your heart may be too cold to beat. They could have easily made her a one-note character with her optimism, but she is often confronted with conflict and the way Hirosue handles these situations is just wonderful.

So unlike the tales of Ingmar Bergman or even the second half of What Dreams May Come, this movie shall not leave you with a fear of your own mortality, but a feeling of acceptance and understanding. So definitely search for this one.



  1. I think these reviews are really cool, so I'm curious--Do they assign you certain movies to review or do you just contribute reviews for whatever you've seen recently?

  2. Pretty much the latter. Usually I tell them what I'm interested in that's in the area and either they pick one or I pick one. If Alex reviewed something, I try not to repeat. In this case, I had seen this before they picked it.