Plot: Departures follows Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki), a devoted cellist in an orchestra that has just been dissolved and who is suddenly left without a job. Daigo decides to move back to his old hometown with his wife to look for work and start over. He answers a classified ad entitled 'Departures,' thinking it is an advertisement for a travel agency only to discover that the job is actually for a 'Nokanshi' or 'encoffineer,' a funeral professional who prepares deceased bodies for burial and entry into the next life. While his wife and others despise the job, Daigo takes a certain pride in his work and begins to perfect the art of 'Nokanshi,' acting as a gentle gatekeeper between life and death, between the departed and the family of the departed. The film follows his profound and sometimes comical journey with death as he uncovers the wonder, joy and meaning of life and living.
Okuribito (Japanese) - a person who sends a dead persons soul on a journey (to heaven).
Departures won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film on 81st Academy Awards.
Also it won in total over 60 international and domestic awards, including major prizes in Montreal, China, Hawaii, Palm Springs and a sweep of the Japan Academy Prize awards (Best Film, Best Director (Yojiro Takita), Best writing (Kundo Koyama), Best Actor (Masahiro Motoki), Best Supporting Actor (Tsutomu Yamazaki), Best Supporting Actress (Kimiko Yo), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Lightings).
Released on September 13 2008 on 220 screens, Departures earned $31.24m (Y3.05bn) in its original release as Shochiku's biggest hit last year. In the first weekend since its Oscar win for best foreign-language film, Departures ascended to the number one position at the Japanese box office after re-entering the top ten last week in eighth place. It earned $3.3m (Y320.5m) from 299,495 admissions on 189 screens in its 25th week of release. No other film has ever reached the number one position so late in its theatrical run, in another of Departures' numerous firsts. (screendaily.com)
The film was ten years in the making, starting from an idea on the part of the lead, Motoki.
While death is the subject of great ceremony, as portrayed in this movie, it is also associated with great taboo in Japan, so the director was worried about the film's reception and did not anticipate commercial success.
«Departures is more of the solid studio product he's become accustomed to producing -- it's lean, slick, and fits neatly within the conventions of the melodrama genre. It's also artfully mounted, beautifully written, and incredibly moving because its emotion and sentiment creep up on you.»
«The film can be taxed with being a little too long and too sentimental. Joe Hisaishi's score is unabashedly romantic and the cinematography is ravishing, but there are few moments of inner contemplation. ... This is compensated for by some skillful comic relief and warm rapport among the cast, especially the filial relationship Daigo develops for Sasaki who stands-in for his absent father.»
«Throughout Departures, Takita’s intent is clear, but his effect is not achieved. Joe Hisaishi’s score and Daigo’s frequent cello solos strain to stir emotion, but simultaneously underline every contrivance. The frequent deployment of heavy symbolism makes every point clear, but steamrolls subtlety. Most interesting, at least to this viewer, is the way that Departures provides a Japanese counterpart to Christine Jeff’s recent Sunshine Cleaning.»
«It's an extremely moving piece of drama that doesn't get bogged down by melodrama, and I thoroughly enjoyed its themes of reconciliation, forgiveness and best of all, being a professional and serving with pride. ... It's a fantastically crafted film with an excellent cast all round, and shatters all taboos that come with the profession of a “casketer”.»
«Although it would have been so easy for “Departures” to lay on the sappiness, the picture always opts for the graceful route as it tells its powerful tale about life, death, and awakening. ... Although I don’t feel “Departures” is even the best Japanese film of the year (my vote would go to Tokyo Sonata), it’s still nice to find the Academy Awards bring to light such a strong Japanese film for the masses.»
«The human morality and mortality issues here are exemplified with the controlled releasing and withholding of musical score in this movie. ... Departures is one of those rare movies that I wish it would not end and yet when it ended; it was done in such a meaningful, beautiful and poignant way that it was a fitting closure of a perfect movie.»
«As the effects of the country’s aging population and declining birthrate manifest more sharply in Japan’s rural areas, Okuribito makes a pretty convincing case that young aspirants may want to head for the countryside in search of love, comfort, and even dignity.»
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