Saturday, August 22, 2009
"Departures," is the winner of 10 Japan Academy Prize Awards and the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in a very competitive year.
In Departures, Diago's fate seems set as he spends all his family's money on a professional cello after he gets a job in the only orchestra in Tokyo. But at the end of his first performance, the orchestra is shut down. When Diago is forced to sell his cello, he is totally lost.
He and his wife move back into his childhood home while he gains his bearings and a some kind of employment. As fate would have it, Diago gets the first job he applies for - "helping with departures." Diago thinks he is going to work at a travel agency. The job turns out to be preparing the recently departed for the coffin with the traditional Japanese cleansing rituals of Nokanshi.
There are some humorous moments (reminiscent of Sunshine Cleaning) as Diago learns to handle dead bodies and hides his new occupation from his wife and neighbors. But the money is good and his boss has become a sort of father figure for him. Living in his childhood home has brought back painful memories of his own father forcing him to practice his cello and then leaving him without a goodbye.
Diago undergoes a symbolic (and funny) death when he must play dead as his boss performs a demo of the cleansing ritual on him. But after facing death, he is reborn. He gains a sense of purpose when he sees how the cleaning rituals help the family of the deceased cope with their grief and gain closure. His senses are awakened to the world around him. And for the first time he is really alive. He plays his cello for the sheer joy of it.
Unfortunately, the journey on our true path never runs smoothly. The neighbors shun him because he is "making money off the dead." When he wife discovers what he does, she calls him "unclean" and gives him an ultimatum - the marriage or his job.
A great movie has the power to help us make sense of the trials we go through in life. In Departures, the cleansing rituals help the families make sense of a loved one's death and honor their life. We learn that death is a part of life's journey, but the journey is living.