Not a straight-up review but bits and pieces of my thoughts on the film instead. I’d actually finished writing this during working hour but decided not to post it until I got home hehe…

Directed by Yojiro Takita, Departures or ‘Okuribito’ literally awakens the art of ‘encoffinment’ in Japan to life. It was mentioned that the director and actor took a year off to learned the steps from a mortician in practice, along with the production of the movie – 10 years in the making! The film is loosely based on Aoki Shinmon’s autobiographical book Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician. Basically, the art of encoffinment is similar to cleansing ritual for the ones departed, hence the movie title Departures.

Ex-cellist Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) moves back to hometown with his wife (Ryoko Hirosue) and stumbles upon a job at what turns out to be a funeral home that performs encoffinment ritual for the dead. As the story unfolds, his life takes on a turning point that transported him back to the childhood days playing cello at his dad’s old place while beckoning his failing memory to recall the estranged father who’d left him when he was little.

The never-seen-coffin-before Daigo soon learns that not only death is inevitable and leaves behind a nasty-smelling experience, but it also creates a devastating trail of ‘unfinished business’ that revolves around the affair of the departed with closed ones, and as Daigo reflects on his job at end of the day, his non-existent relationship with his father had taken on the same route as well, or is there hope left to mend?

Supposed, it was the leftover anger that overshadows the image of his father at the back of his mind and that impression alone has kept him from remembering a loving family he’d once knew. The pain of being left alone still lingers throughout his life even after he is married to a loving, supportive wife. But for what Daigo lacks in terms of feeling, his dutiful wife stepped in to offer unconditional love and watches over his back as she silently prays for better days ahead.

Although Daigo grew up from a broken home, he appears to be optimistic and hopeful, far from feeding the cliched storyline of some egoistical former musician going through the emotional crisis of his life career. Altogether, Daigo’s light-hearted character and fellow supporting casts provide enough warmth to make the movie a little less depressing. One memorable scene that garners much public attention on Daigo and laughter from the audience is the one where he unknowingly volunteered to act as a corpse under the procedure of encoffinment in a DVD (much to the dismay of his wife later).

On the job, Daigo carefully ‘prepares’ the dead for the wake, washes them, dress them up and apply their favourite cosmetics before the presence of mourning family members who sat down and witnessed the whole ritual in between quiet sobs.

The whole 10-minute process could’ve taken more than 30 minutes in real life, but the pace is just right for me, considering this is a more than 2 hour running film and with multiple international awards won to boot. There’s a good sense of timing estimation; of what the audience should expect and anticipate, how long it should stay before what comes next.

There was also a lot of moment of silence in the movie which connects our personal contemplation as an audience to the mark of respect we gave for the ritual to take place. Strange enough, despite learning about the ritual for the first time, the foreign-ness and the awkwardness of it becomes far from foreign and awkward. I was awe-struck instead by the beauty of such ancient ritual of the Japanese, one which even most of the younger generation in Japan never knew until this movie came along.

With each step that Daigo took to clean the body, the silence grew even more intense among the bereaved family members as he gracefully carried out the ritual with the finest touch and precision of each step taken. It looks intricate at first glance, yet as classy and minimalistic as the Japanese tea ceremony. And with such delicate ritual carried out by a charming-looking man makes it even more fascinating to watch for some strange reason… OK, maybe it’s just me and my fancy for anything sleek.

One thing’s for sure though, fans of cello music cannot afford to miss this divinely beautiful Beethoven-inspired musical piece by famous composer Joe Hisaishi 🙂

And I have to give credit to the film’s subtle disclaimer as well during the first 10 minutes of the opening that ‘one should judge beyond the cover’ ahem. 😛

Hilarity of it aside, the scene staged a significant beginning on how Takita would portray Daigo’s story in the reflection of death in his film. Departures wraps up with a heart-wrenching closure; Daigo met his father and at long last able to recall how he looked like, but that was the first and final look that Daigo would remember for life as he performed the encoffinment ritual for his father…

That’s enough sobbing to do for now. Okuribito reminded me again that death sometimes is not the end, and so this movie begins with no assured ending. Aptly.


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