“Departures” is a very special film of Yojiro Takita, about Daigo Kobayashi, a cellist with a Tokyo orchestra, who loses his job because the orchestra is disolved and moves back to his birthtown, Yamagata in the northwest.
His mother has died a couple of years ago and has left him a home.
Daigo and his wife Mika move from Tokyo to Yamagata, they settle happily in their home and Daigo starts hunting for a job. One day, Daigo reads an add in the newspaper, about a job opening in a firm specializing in “travel”. He eagerly responds and arranges an interview. In the interview he meets the boss of the firm, Ikuei Sasaki, who hires him on the spot, without even asking any questions.
Daigo soon discovers that the firm is an “encoffination” agent, with the name “NK Agent”. They are hired by funeral homes and their job is to clean, dress and place the dead in their coffin. The process takes place in front of the mourning relatives and friends and is extremely important for the sending off of the dead.
Daigo’s first “job” is tough. An old lady has been found in her flat two weeks after her death. Daigo vomits and collapses as he faces (and smells) the corpse. A rough beginning.
As he continues and learns the job, Daigo becomes more and more tuned in. He learns that the boss got started when he lost his wife nine years ago, and he wanted to see her off in the best possible way.
When Mika, Daigo’s wife learns about his job and challenges him to leave it, Daigo stands firm. Mika leaves him to return to her parents, only to return back to Daigo after she finds out she is pregnant with their child, and she has made peace with the fact that Daigo’s job is going to stay.
The death of the old lady who owns the steam baths in town give Mika the opportunity to see Daigo in action, and break any resistance and reluctance she might have.
She witnesses how Daigo performs his duty, turning it into an art that supercedes the awful presence of Death by expressing in motion and spirit respect for the dead and by releasing the beauty of the diceased to the amazement and joy of the family and friends who are present.
Jeff Chuang comments eloquently in Japanator:
“His mesmerizing performance of cleaning, dressing and presenting the dead in front of the bereaved was a sight to see. The process is mostly silent (other than dressed with Joe Hisaishi’s usual, musical excellence), yet there is a precarious balance between mechanical precision and forceful gentleness as Motoki manipulates various pieces of fabrics, tools, and the body in front of us.
The art of encoffination as presented is one that respects both the living and the dead; a minimal amount of skin is exposed during the process. The encoffiner moves the body for the minimum as necessary, and the encoffiner ultimately recreates an image of the dead during the prime in the deceased’s life. The whole process is both cathartic and moving, and I found myself thinking about my lost loved ones over the years. I believe this is the strongest argument for such critical success of Departures at the Academy Awards as well with the numerous other awards it won–the ability to evoke such deep convictions from its viewers with a simple gesture, in a way that we do not feel manipulated.
And the feeling of conviction extends to the characters in the movie as well. Motoki plays a jobless cellist, who gave up and moved back to his childhood home along with his young wife. In search of work, Motoki’s Daigo Kobayashi meets his new boss through a misprint, and a baptism of vomit and awkward moments mark the beginning of Daigo’s new career. The interplay between Daigo’s new line of work, his wife, and his return to the familial memories he left behind play out through the film, with each death, each encoffination bringing the living ever closer together.”
There is another layer of the movie. Daigo’s relationship with his father, who left his family when Daigo was a boy, to follow a woman he fell in love with.
Daigo hates is father, who disappeared since he left, without a trace.
Fate however, has other designs. One day Mika receives notification of Daigo’s father’s death.
She convinces Daigo to go and offer his father his services.
Daigo reluctantly accepts and … the rest on the screen.
I hope that the absolutely wonderful soundtrack of the movie will give you a good push to go and see the movie. You will not regret it, as a matter of fact I think that you will write back to me, to thank me for the recommendation.