|Keywords||Abandonment, Acculturation, Anatomy, Asian Experience, Caregivers, Communication, Cross-Cultural Issues, Death and Dying, Depression, Empathy, Family Relationships, Father-Son Relationship, Freedom, Grief, Human Worth, Illness and the Family, Individuality, Loneliness, Love, Memory, Mourning, Ordinary Life, Parenthood, Prayer as Medicine, Professionalism, Society, Spirituality, Suffering, Time|
At first the title seems to relate to the main character's lay-off or departure from his job as a professional cellist in a bankrupt and dissolving orchestra. As the story continues, the title's unpredictable meaning becomes clear.
Not surprisingly, jobs for cellists are difficult to find. Shattered by his desperate situation, Daigo, the central character (Masahiro Motoki), and his wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue), return from the city to his hometown where they begin to experience stresses and discomforts associated with joblessness. After a long period of searching, Daigo responds to an ad for someone to work in departures. Believing that he is applying for a travel advisor job, he discovers that the position involves the ceremonial art of caring for the bodies of those who have recently died--or departed. He learns about encoffination, the elaborate ritual of washing and dressing the body before placement in the casket prior to burial, from Sasaski (Tsutomu Yamazaki), his new employer.
Mika is so appalled and ashamed when she learns about his new career, she decides to leave him. In spite of his own unhappiness, Daigo continues on. With the remarkably skilled Sasaski at his side, Daigo develops great sensitivity in the ritualized care that is provided before family mourners. Each of the caring situations becomes for Daigo, a rich story about the textures of human life. He seeks solace for himself and another measure of dignity for the departed by playing beautiful music on his cello. Most viewers, including the eventually reconciled Mika, are impressed by the beauty of this probably unfamiliar Japanese ceremony.
Another moving dimension of Daigo's personal story occurs when information is revealed about the father who had abandoned him when he was a child. Circumstances intervene so that Daigo's new skills and sensitivities contribute to an understanding of that distant past and an opportunity to provide his father with a dignified departure ceremony.
|Commentary||Although other artistic expressions, ranging from "The Parents" by artist Käthe Kollwitz, and the "Adagio for Strings" by composer Samuel Barber, focus on loss and grief, the separate preparation ceremonies provided by Daigo under Sasaki's tutelage present other insights about the dead--and the living--that are riveting, compassionate, and occasionally humorous. It might be useful to pair Departures with another film, The Big Chill and its different but similar focus, and perhaps even with D. H. Lawrence's short story, "Odour of Chrysanthemums," in which ritual washing of the dead brings a different kind of closure (see annotation).|
|Leading Actors||Ryoko Hirosue, Masahiro Motoki, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Kazuko Yoshiyuki|
|Studio||Regent Releasing (USA distributor, 2009)|
|Running Time||130 minutes|
|Video Source||E1 Entertainment (USA DVD, 2010)|
|Miscellaneous||In Japanese, with English subtitles. Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Foreign Language Film (2009) and many awards from the Japanese Academy.|
|Annotated by||Nixon, Lois LaCivita|
|Date of Entry||09/13/10|