Departures (2008)

I am going to do something a little different – in between posting movie reviews of current movies I have seen, I would also like to go back into my huge back catalogue and post reviews of movies that I love a lot, many of which occupy a sacred spot in my heart. Once I have decided to do this, I knew immediately what are the first two movie reviews I need to share.

Departures (2008) absolutely changed my life. I am not kidding when I proclaim that this film neatly demarcated my life into two separate halves. It feels too weird to share my personal love story with regards to this magical film to the internet world, but my close friends will know it. But I will say this – this is the first movie review I penned. It may not be deep and profound as I read it again, but it holds a special place in my heart, also because it was published in my local newspaper.


When I watched the trailer for Departures, I could surmise the plot immediately – guy loses job, guy finds a job as a “encoffiner”, guy learns job, guy is ashamed of job, finally guy (and all those around him) understands job and finds enlightenment. How many times have we seen films of this sort? However I find myself totally immersed and vested in Diago’s (Masahiro Motoki) personal journey. I wonder if it is because I lost my father some years ago but over the course of the film, I found myself totally captivated by the themes of death, living, reconciliation and forgiveness.

Many a time in Japanese films, we see it going one of two ways (I know I am over generalising here but it does feel like the trend in the new Japanese trailers I have seen). It is either bogged down by overbearing melodrama or geared towards ridiculous campiness. Departures is neatly balance between the two ends of the spectrum.  Suffice to say that humour was even embedded in the morbid subject of death. I was kept enthralled by the ritualistic, graceful, dignified preparation of the deceased, all done in full view of the family members. I found myself with the full knowledge that the whole funeral process is as much for the deceased as it is for the living.

This is a well-crafted film that is told in beautiful metaphors, so unlike the numerous films out there that spoon feed and ‘tells’ us everything, instead of trusting us to understand what is going on. For instance, the final scene is shown through slow calculated actions and gestures to soaring music, with no dialogue and yet I am sure not one person in the cinema fails to be moved by it and takes away some personal lesson from it (the only other time I can remember a director uses this technique in an ending was A History of Violence).

Pay close attention to how the director, Yujiro Takita frames Diago each time he comes home and rest alone just above the stair landing. Ponder also on the numerous metaphors (food, sex, nature etc) he puts in after scenes of dealing with the dead. Linger your eyes on the physical positions of Diago’s wife, Mika as she observes her husband in action twice. Without the use of dialogue and cliché scenes of the wife coming to terms with the morbidness of her husband’s profession, we know in our heart and mind her decision with regard to the profession. I don’t know about other cinema-goers but I find it so refreshing to be engaged in heart, mind and soul throughout a film and not having it dumb down for me.

Departures is one movie that I have seen this year that moved and entertained me in almost equal measures. I came out of the cinema falling in love with life all over again and loving my profession even more.



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