I have been on a DVD rental kick in the past couple weeks, and I have taken some titles from Blockbuster's Critics Picks section. I have had some real success, having rented The Class and The Cove. I am a huge fan of foreign films, though unfortunately my interests rarely extend beyond French and Spanish films. This is probably due to the fact that I have studied both French and Spanish and have an understanding of both languages. I did see an Icelandic film called The Sea (2002), and though I had no understanding of the language I completely enjoyed the film. Departures is a 2008 Japanese film directed by Yojiro Tokita. It won a richly deserved Best Foreign Language Film at the 2009 Academy Awards. This film has redeemed Japan cinematically, after seeing the horrors of The Cove. It took Yojiro Tokita and Masahiro Motoki, the film's star, over a decade to bring the film to life. Departures is a beautiful film that lives and breathes in the quiet moments.
Daigo Kobayashi (Motoki) is a concert cellist whose orchestra has been disbanded. His devoted wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) has agreed to move from Tokyo to Sakata, Daigo's hometown. He sees a classifieds ad for "assisting departures for an NK agency" and when he arrives for his interview he is told that there was a misprint. The job is for assisting in encoffinment ceremonies. The job pays extremely well, but as death is a very taboo subject in Japan, he is too embarrassed to reveal to Mika the details of his employment. Daigo has a very uneasy time with his job, finding it hard to even look at food when he returns home from work. He develops a bond with his boss (Tsutomu Yamakazi), and discovers that he quite enjoys his work. Mika, upon finding out the details of her husband's job, feels that Daigo must choose between her and his work. There is also a parallel story that involves Daigo's estranged father, who left and never returned when he was six.
Departures is the first Japanese film I have ever seen and while I often found myself stuck reading the subtitles instead of watching the action, there were many silent moments in the film that exist without dialogue. These scenes were some of the most beautiful that I have seen in recent memory. The film does this through the symbolism of the cello, which Daigo studied at a young age because of his father's wishes. My only complaint is that the music is sometimes too loud and overpowering, and it begins to compete with the events on screen. I also have issues with the film's poster, which I think wrongly shies away from the theme of death in the film. Overall it is an incredibly well made film and I am thankful that this type of film is accessible outside of Japan. The acting was superb and the pacing was excellent. Departures is a fantastic film that left me feeling hopeful.
My rating: 4 stars out of 4.