This film has been waiting patiently to be watched by me for some time. It won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2009 and has garnered several rave reviews from important film critics. The story has always intrigued me, but I just couldn’t be bothered to sit and watch a slow meditative movie on death until today. I am angry at myself that I have waited this long to watch such a beautiful film.

Departures’ main draw is the story. A young man who thought he was destined to be a famous cello player, hits a brick wall professionally. Deciding to give up playing for a while, he moves with his wife to his hometown to start a new life. This life includes becoming a man who prepares dead bodies for burial. This profession is not looked upon in Japanese society as being a very good one, so his wife gets upset and calls him unclean. And yet he knows this is what he is destined to do and he loves doing it. Giving a dead person their last final dignified moment for their family is one of the most fulfilling things someone can do…

Wrapped up in this story is also the protagonist’s relationship (or lack of) with his absent father. His father leaves him and his mother when he was only six years old and the protagonist hates him for that. He wants nothing more than to hear that his father is dead. Of course when he does hear, the reaction that is produced deep inside him is quite different from he expected. At one point in the film there is this really well done flashback sequence where father, son and mother are picking up stones by a body of water. The son picks up a stone and gives it to his father. The father picks up an even bigger stone and gives it to his son. Later on the significance of the stones is explained and the sequence takes on even more meaning. (I won’t give the explanation away because I won’t do it justice.)

The layers of this story are shed like an onion. As you journey further into the film, aspects of each character come to light that enlightens not only that character’s arc but also the protagonist’s arc. It is beautiful to watch him evolve into a more complete and less selfish human being. What is also breathtakingly beautiful is the ceremony that gets repeated several times throughout the film. Like a lot of things in Japan there is a ritual to how a body is prepared. And each movement no matter how frivolous it looks is for a purpose. They do basically what we do here in the states just in a more artistic fashion. You get entranced by the process. It brings you in deeper and deeper into the larger story at hand. This way of storytelling is hard to accomplish well. And yet this director pulls it off like he is Kurosawa resurrected from the dead. Maybe he is…


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