120. Departures (2008)

Very much alive

Directed by: Yôjirô Takita
Written by: Kundô Koyama
Starring: Masahiro Motoki, Ryôko Hirosue and Tsutomu Yamazaki

In all seriousness, it's hilarious

Balancing profundity with humour in exploring the theme of death is no easy feat. Departures, however, kills it. Supported by a powerful premise, the strong performances and thought-provoking ideas behind the Japanese Oscar-winning film teach us to adopt a greater appreciation for living, human relationships and personal growth, without being  overly cheesy.

Celloist Daigo Kobayashi (Motoki) finds himself in a personal crisis when his orchestra disbands, forcing him to accept the limitations of his talent and return to his hometown in search of a new job. But without knowing the finer details, Daigo unwittingly accepts a job in assisting ‘departures,’ which his boss points out is a mistype that should have read ‘the departed’, since the job specializes in performing the ritual of cleaning and coffining the dead. While Daigo’s inexperience with corpses make him rather unsuitable for the job, his experiences draw insight into his own struggle to forgive his absent father and value the relationships that he does have.

Departing from tempting cliches and predictable outcomes, Departures is effective, moving and engaging through its beautiful orchestration of symbolic action, gesture, image and music. As the film masterfully balances black humour with profound themes and ideas, Departures is strongest when it relies on the audience’s own careful observation of Daigo’s steady transformation, rather than its brief slips into wordy explanations that seek a sense of closure to the story. Darkly funny, inspiring and unique, Departures manages to be full of life and energy, despite being prepared and wrapped in concepts of death, mortality and grief.


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