We saw this lovely Japanese film quite a while ago but the theme still resonates for us because it situates the viewer firmly and lovingly in his/her place in the universal scheme of things.  It immediately became our favourite film for 2009 and we were not surprised that it had won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

The storyline deals with a young man, Daigo, who loses his job as a celloist in Tokyo and, unable to make a living in the city, returns with his young wife to his childhood home in a small village.  There, he answers a job advertisement entitled "Departures".  This turns out to be not the travel agency he expected but a mortician - a very specilised mortician who practises the age-old ritual of cleansing and preparing the body for burial - in Japan performed with formal respect and sensitivity in front of the grieving family.   Social taboos and embarrassment prevent Daigo from revealing to his wife the nature of his job and there are moments of pure humour as he deals with awkward situations.  We the audience share his discomfort, horror and growing understanding and appreciation of where death fits into the big scheme of things.  Birth, death, parent-child relationships, the changing of the seasons, the ebb and flow of life itself are woven into this beautifully filmed movie where the landscape and the music play roles as important as the actors.  And yes, the ending is somewhat predictable and all the loose ends are neatly tied up leaving the audience feeling good - about death!  Nothing to be feared or shunned, just a natural and inevitable part of being alive.

Masahiro Motoki plays Daigo with strength and intensity, winning first our sympathy in his early struggles to stick with this well-paid but demanding job and later our respect as he comes to take pride and satisfaction in it.  His wife (played by Ryoko Hirosue) is perhaps overly devoted and cutesy but his mentor and employer is powerfully portrayed by Tsutomu Yamazaki.

This is a very satisfying movie which sent me away at peace with my place in this world.  It convinced me more that ever that when the time comes, I just want to be wrapped in some natural fibres and have a tree planted over me.

My Score:  9/10


Somehow I have to stop Ma writing her thoughts first - she says all I want to say ( and much as it hurts me to say it), much more eloquently!
This film is a standout.  The acting - beautifully underplayed but sincere, the cinematography - beautifully capturing the ebb and flow of the interconnectedness of life and the screenplay - not plot driven but funny, quirky and treating a difficult topic with such sensitivity.
At first I thought the seemingly overlong shots of the fish in the river, the birds migrating, the seasonal changes were an intrusion, but, on reflection and after watching the entire screenplay, realised the vital importance of these scenes in capturing the cycles in nature in which we humans are so inextricably woven.
Yes, the ending stoops into almost corniness and over sentimentality but this is easily forgiven when the entire pastiche is revealed.
I enjoyed the ritual of laying out the body - normally Oriental rituals amuse and bore me - to the point that I sat mesmerised by the love, care and reverence shown to the human body after death - almost as if all the deceased's physical life and actions are being revered, honoured and remembered.

This movie reminds us that death is an inevitable part of living and the final scenes when Daigo performs the ceremony on his own father with his wife and unborn son the only witnesses, encourage us to forgive the mistakes made by others (and ourselves) in this life as each of our lives are simply  too short to spend valuable time dwelling on the negative when we could be celebrating the positive.  Daigo has learnt from his father's mistakes and makes a conscious choice not to repeat these with his own family.
A fantastic film - a difficult subject handled with great skill, and sensitivity.  I defy anyone to watch this film without being moved.

Score - 9/10

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