Starring Masaniro Motoki, Ryoko Hirosue,
and Tsutomu Yamazaki
Japan, 2007, 130 min.
This film surprised many when it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscars. With its theatrical release tomorrow, May 29th, 2009 in New York and other cities, general audiences will have the chance to see it and understand why it deserved this and the numerous other awards it has won.
The story is about Daigo Kobayashi (Masamiro Motoki), who loses his job as a cellist when his orchestra is dissolved. His wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) agrees to moving from Tokyo back to Yamagata, his home town, where they can live in a building his deceased mother left to him.
Daigo answers an employment ad that he thinks pertains to a job in the travel industry because it features the word "departures." He's shocked to find out from his would-be employer Mr. Sasaki (Tsumotomu Yamazaki) that the ad had a misprint and that the job is learning how to assist in "encoffination" of deceased persons. This is the ritualistic preparation of the body for cremation.
Director Takita has done a marvelous job of injecting enough humor in the story to keep it from being morbid even though death is such a prominent element in the narrative. At the same time, the humor is sufficiently restrained so that the film does not devolve into farce.
And the entire cast is marvelous.
For some reason I neglected to include a rating in my initial review on May 5th, but have no doubt about it, Departures gets 4 out of 4 stars and my highest recommendation. It's beautiful, warm and touching, an outstanding example of great world cinema.
Check local listings for locations or visit the film's website at www.departures-themovie.com for the release schdule and other info.
Read Mike Hale's recent NY Times article about Director Takita-san here.