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Friday, June 12, 2009

Departures Review

Departures - A KINOSMITH Release


Release Date: June 12th, 2009

Rated 14A for disturbing content

Running time: 131 minutes

Yôjirô Takita (dir.)

Kundo Koyama (writer)

Joe Hisaishi (music)

Masahiro Motoki as Daigo Kobayashi

Tsutomu Yamazaki as Ikuei Sasaki

Ryoko Hirosue as Mika Kobayashi

Kazuko Yoshiyuki as Tsuyako Yamashita

Kimiko Yo as Yuriko Kamimura

Takashi Sasano as Shokichi Hirata

Our reviews below:


Departures Review By John C.

**** (out of 4)

Departures was the winner of Best Foreign Language Film at last year’s Academy Awards. The film provided one of the few surprises at the Oscars, beating out the competition of The Baader Meinhof Complex, The Class, Revanche and Waltz With Bashir.

It tells the story of Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki), a man who plays the cello in an orchestra. When the orchestra dissolves, he finds a job listing in the paper under “departures”. What is it? A travel agency maybe? You can understand his shock when he goes for the job interview, is hired on the spot and expected to start preparing bodies for cremation.

I didn’t think the film was perfect, but it’s still excellent despite it’s flaws. I found it to falter in it’s first act. A scene where he goes into an old ladies house, to remove her two-week old body, is disgusting and I didn’t find it to fit tonally with the rest of the film. The opening scene is played for comedy, but then played again as drama later on. I’m not sure that this quite worked for me. On the contrary, the second act is moving and beautiful.

But, where the film really succeeds is in it’s uniquely moving and beautiful last act. As his business starts to take on a more personal level, everyone around him starts to realize it’s nothing to be ashamed of. The last fifty minutes of the film are handled delicately, beautifully and flawlessly, making up for all falters in the first act, and making us understand why it won the Oscar.

The music in Departures is also amazing, the sweeping cello combined with beautiful scenery is part of what makes the film so beautiful and emotional. My only question is: When Daigo plays the cello, who’s playing the piano music that starts to accompany him? But I wonder that about a lot of movies. Even if you wait for the DVD, Departures is definitely worth seeing, I highly recommend it.


Departures Review By Erin V.

**** (out of 4)

Departures is the story of a young man in Japan, who is a cellist. After a short opening, we flash back to a few months earlier, when the orchestra that Daigo, the main character, is playing in, disbands. Daigo then has no choice but to look for work elsewhere. He sees an ad in a local paper for a job dealing with ‘departures’. He goes for the interview, and gets the job - practically before he even knows what it is for. It is not until much further along in the movie that we get back to the first scene again, although from a different tone and perspective this time...

Despite what may seem like an odd premise, this is actually a very artistically beautiful film. The Japanese ceremony of preparing people for their final departure is one that is done in a ritualistic manner, almost like a dance. We see how much closure the family members of their deceased loved ones get from watching the beautiful preparation ritual.

At first, hearing that this movie was 2 hours and 11 minutes, I was not sure how long it would feel. It feels like just the right length. Despite the fact that it is completely in Japanese and you are reading subtitles, a lot of the dialogue is not that fast, or there is just music accompanying what is happening on screen, (there are even times when this film is completely silent). So, it is not a strain to be reading subtitles for the running time, nor is it distracting to what is happening on screen.

In short, it is no surprise that this movie won at the 81st Academy Awards for Best Foreign Picture. This movie completely draws you in both visually, and emotionally. By the time you reach the ending, you will have tears in your eyes. Set to a backdrop of quiet cello music, Departures truly is a work of art.


Departures Review By Nicole

**** (out of 4)

Departures is a beautiful Japanese film that is a piece of art in itself. The main character, Daigo Kobayashi, plays the cello in a local orchestra. Daigo has always been a cellist, but when the orchestra he plays at goes under due to poor attendance, Daigo is desperate for work. So he looks in the classifieds, and settles on a job entitled “Departures”. What Daigo thinks is a travel agency turns out to be a job at a funeral home. Desperate for money, Daigo takes the job, but does not tell his wife Mika, afraid she wouldn’t approve. At first, Daigo doesn’t like his new job. He finds it weird, and kind of dark. But over time, Daigo realizes how important his job is, when he sees the solace that the beautiful Japanese ritual brings to families.

I really loved Departures. What could have been a depressing movie, turns out to be a touching, moving, and aesthetically pleasing film. Some of the scenes at the beginning play out more as a comedy, but the rest of the film is more of a drama. I was completely taken aback by both the gracefulness and reverence in how the deceased are handled in Japan. We see how Daigo’s artistic abilities come into play at his work. The music in this film is also beautiful. I really liked how the cello music fit with the Japanese funeral ritual, which is essentially a dance.

Departures is a beautiful, emotional film, that celebrates life’s beauty in all it’s stages. An amazing look at Japanese culture, and a film that will be accessible anywhere in the world.


Departures Review By Maureen

**** (out of 4)

Departures is a beautiful work of art. The academy got it right choosing Departures for Best Foreign Film.

Given the subject matter, preparing bodies, this could have been a very dark and depressing film. Instead, director Yôjirô Takita created a film that is gentle, warm and lovely to see and hear.

The movie opens with Daigo performing the preparation ceremony on Tomeo, a young suicide victim with a secret. This opening scene provides light humour and introduces us to the main subject, the ritual preparation ceremony for the departed. The movie goes to flashback at this point.

In the flashback, the main character, Daigo loses his job as a cellist when the local orchestra dissolves. He answers an ad for a job that he thinks is in a travel agency. When he realizes the company actually prepares bodies for undertakers he is reluctant. However, the company owner convinces him that fate has brought him there, and offers him generous financial compensation. Without telling his wife Mika, Daigo takes the job and begins the process of learning the ceremonial ritual of preparing the recently departed for their final journey.

The rest of the film deals with Daigo struggling to learn and finally mastering his new job. The story also deals with how Daigo’s decision to work with departures affects his relationship with his sweet and gentle wife Mika.

What I loved about Departures is how the subject of death is treated with such respect and dignity. I found it absolutely touching and beautiful to watch the preparation ceremony. The ritual is preformed with such grace and precision that I felt I was watching a dance. The cello music that Daigo plays and the classical music that runs throughout the film made the artistic experience complete for me.

The acting was believable and wonderfully low-key. I liked Daigo and Mika and cared what happened to them and their relationship.

From start to finish, I was engaged with Departures. Even at just over two hours of reading English subtitles. I never tired of watching beauty unfold.

If you appreciate quiet, artistic movies, then you won’t want to miss this unique Japanese film.


Departures Review By Tony

**** (out of 4)

Before the opening credits of Departures we see a young man and an older man attending the wake of a young suicide victim to prepare the body for cremation. After the opening credits, we find the younger man Daigo (Masahiro Motoki) playing cello in a symphonic concert and then being told that his orchestra is disbanding. With his wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) he moves back to the house in northern Japan left to him by his mother. Expecting a job in the travel business, he answers an ad for a “departures” firm, and is surprised when the boss (Tsutomu Yamazaki) hires him on the spot with a cash advance. Only then does he discover that his job involves the preparation of dead bodies for the afterlife by ritual cleaning, making up and dressing, to be placed in coffins and burned to release their spirits. We watch with increasing admiration as Daigo handles this role in front of all kinds of grieving families with the utmost care and respect, and is usually rewarded with their gratitude. Daigo is reluctant to let his wife know what he does, and when she accidentally finds out she at first rejects him, since many still see his profession as unclean.

A lot more happens in this film. Though a bit over two hours long, it is never boring. Despite the potentially gruesome subject matter and tears of vicarious grief that we will inevitably feel, we are comforted by the quiet dignity of the rituals of death. The acting is uniformly excellent. Despite minor cultural differences we can immediately relate to and like most of the characters. The musical score by Joe Hisaishi is very effective. There is a recurring tune that we first hear Daigo playing on his cello. Some scenes are silent and in the showing I attended you could hear a pin drop.

Departures richly deserved its best foreign language film Oscar. Go see it. You will know why.


Consensus: Departures is a beautiful film that will show you the work of art that is the final preparation for departure in Japan. Although the subject matter could have been done in a disturbing manner, it is quite the opposite here. Completely deserving of it’s Best foreign language film Oscar, Departures is a film that is a must see. **** (Out of 4)

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