Release Date (UK) – 4 December 2009
Certificate (UK) – 12A
Country – Japan
Director – Yôjirô Takita
Runtime – 130 mins
Starring – Masahiro Motoki, Ryoko Hirosue
The Winner of 2009’s best foreign language film Oscar Departures (Japanese title Okuribito is) only being released here in the UK this week. Its slightly morbid plot follows young Japanese couple Daigo (Masahiro Motoki) and Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) , After finally getting his dream job as a Cellist only to have the orchestra dissolve after his first concert Daigo is forced to sell his Cello and move back to his home town with Mika to live in the house his deceased mother left him. After seeing a job in the local paper for a company called ‘ departures’ Daigo thinks he is applying for a job in a travel agency but discovers departures actually refers to the process of beautifying dead bodies before their funeral ‘departure’. Desperate for work he takes the job, but this is regarded as a shameful job in Japanese culture so he hides it from Mika.
This is a lovely touching story and interesting study of Japanese culture and taboos but I’m a little surprised it won the Oscar over the candidates of Waltz with Bashir, The Baader Meinhof Complex and The Class. It was just not quite as involving and emotional as these films, although still a great watch. It does manage to mix comedy and emotional depth quite well, but perhaps the reliance on comedy is why I just didn’t feel that attached to the characters. Its also a little drawn out, as over and over much screen time is devoted to watching Daigo go through the process of preparing and beautifying the corpses repeatedly. The cast of unknown Japenese actors are all exceptional in their roles, although Masahiro Motoki is actually a Japanese pop star who here proves he can act as well as sing.
It is incredibly beautifully shot and the director is most known for working in the porn industry rather than having a back catalogue of similar poignant features. However his corn factor does come through in a series of scenes that are a little ridiculous and ill fitting as Daigo sits on a chair in the Japanese countryside to play his cello against the landscape background – these staged scenes fell very superficial. However over all this is a lovely enjoyable and moving film.