Departures (film)

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Departures
Okuribito (2008).jpg
Japan release poster
Directed by Yōjirō Takita
Produced by Yasuhiro Mase
Written by Kundô Koyama
Starring Masahiro Motoki
Ryōko Hirosue
Tsutomu Yamazaki
Music by Joe Hisaishi
Cinematography Takeshi Hamada
Editing by Akimasa Kawashima
Distributed by Shochiku
Release dates
  • 13 September 2008 (2008-09-13)
Running time 130 minutes[1]
Country Japan
Language Japanese
Box office $69,932,387[2]

Departures (おくりびと Okuribito?) is a 2008 Japanese drama film by Yōjirō Takita. It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 81st Oscars in 2009 and the Japan Academy Prize for Picture of the Year at the 32nd Japan Academy Prize.

The films concerns the historic Japanese "encoffining" ceremony (called a nōkan) in which professional morticians (納棺者 nōkansha?) ritually dress and prepare bodies before they are placed in coffins. Although the film follows contemporary themes, the practice is now rarely performed; limited mainly to rural areas where older traditions are maintained.

Plot[edit]

Daigo Kobayashi, a cellist in Tokyo, loses his job when his orchestra is disbanded. He decides to move back to his hometown, Sakata, Yamagata, with his wife Mika. Daigo's family used to run a small coffee shop. His father ran away with the waitress when Daigo was very young, and his mother raised him by herself. His mother died two years ago, and left him the house where he grew up. Daigo feels guilty about not having taken better care of his mother.

Back home, Daigo finds an advertisement in the newspaper for "assisting departures". He goes to the interview, uncertain of the job's nature. He is hired on the spot after only one question ("Will you work hard?") and being handed an "advance" by his new boss Sasaki. He discovers that the job involves preparing the dead. Daigo reluctantly accepts. He returns to his wife with sukiyaki for a celebration, but he tells her he will be performing some sort of ceremony.

On his first day, he is made to act as a corpse in a DVD explaining the procedure. His first assignment is to clean, dress and apply cosmetics to the body of an aged woman who has died alone at home, remaining undiscovered for two weeks. He is beset with nausea, and humiliated when strangers on the bus detect an unsavory scent. He goes to an old public bath that he often went to during his childhood to wash off. The bath is run by Tsuyako Yamashita, whose son was an old classmate of Daigo.

Daigo completes a number of assignments and experiences the gratitude of those left behind, gaining a sense of fulfillment. But Mika finds the DVD and begs him to give up such a "disgusting profession." Daigo refuses to quit, so she leaves. Even Yamashita, his old classmate, tells him to get "a proper job."

After a few months, Mika returns, announcing that she is pregnant. She seems to assume that he will get a different job. While Daigo and Mika try to work things out, the telephone rings with the news that Tsuyako, Yamashita's mother, has died. In front of Yamashita, his family and Mika, Daigo prepares her body. The ritual earns the respect of all present. During cremation, Tsuyako's friend appears as the cremator. He thinks that death is not the "end" but the "gate to a next stage".

Afterwards, Daigo goes to the river and finds a small stone to give to Mika. He tells her about "stone-letters", a story told to him by his father – "A long time ago, before words were invented, people would give each other stones to express how they were feeling at that point. A smooth stone might mean that you are happy, while a rough one might mean you are worried about them." Many years ago, Daigo had stood on these same riverbanks with his father and exchanged stone-letters. Daigo's father had promised to send him one every year, though he never did.

They are informed of the elder Kobayashi's death. Daigo refuses to see him, but his coworker convinces him to go, confessing that she herself abandoned her son in Hokkaido when he was only six. Sasaki invites him to take one of the display coffins. Daigo and Mika go to see the body of his father, but Daigo finds that he cannot recognize him. As the funeral workers carelessly handle the body, he angrily stops them, and his wife explains that her husband prepares the dead for burial as a living, thereby tacitly admitting that she has come to accept his work. Daigo takes over the dressing of his father's body, Daigo finds the stone-letter he had given to his father when he was little, in his father's hands. He is at last able to recognize his father from his childhood memory. As he finishes the ceremony, Daigo gently presses the stone-letter to Mika's pregnant belly.

Cast[edit]

Soundtrack[edit]

Okuribito
Soundtrack album by Joe Hisaishi
Released 10 September 2008
Label Universal Music (UMCK-1268)

All compositions by Joe Hisaishi.

  1. "Shine of Snow I" 1:12
  2. "Nohkan" 3:10
  3. "Kaisan" 0:53
  4. "Good-Bye Cello" 2:16
  5. "New Road" 1:15
  6. "Model" 0:47
  7. "First Contact" 1:51
  8. "Washing" 0:34
  9. "Kizuna I" 1:57
  10. "Beautiful Dead I" 3:12
  11. "Okuribito (On Record)" 1:51
  12. "Gui-Dance" 2:26
  13. "Shine of Snow II" 2:25
  14. "Ave Maria (Okuribito)" 5:29
  15. "Kizuna II" 2:04
  16. "Beautiful Dead II" 2:36
  17. "Father" 1:40
  18. "Okuribito (Memory)" 4:10
  19. "Okuribito (Ending)" 4:59

Production[edit]

Loosely based on Aoki Shinmon's autobiographical book Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician (納棺夫日記 Nōkanfu Nikki?),[3] the film was ten years in the making. Motoki studied the art of 'encoffinment' at first hand from a mortician, and how to play a cello for the earlier parts of the film.[4] The director attended funeral ceremonies in order to understand the feelings of bereaved families.[4] While death is the subject of great ceremony, as portrayed in the film, it is also a strongly taboo subject in Japan, so the director was worried about the film's reception and did not anticipate commercial success.[4]

Response[edit]

Departures received positive reviews from critics. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said he had enjoyed watching the film, which had been recommended to him by Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.[5] Based on 102 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, the film received an 81% approval rating from critics, with an average score of 7.0/10[6] and a 68/100 on Metacritic.[7] The film has grossed nearly $70 million worldwide.[2]

In 2011, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times added the film to his "Great Movies" collection.[8]

Awards[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]