3 Stars — Thoughtful

Every once in awhile, a film comes along that surprises with its simplicity and beauty. Such is the case with Yojiro Takita’s 2008 Oscar-winning film Departures.

Slow to start, this touching story wins over viewers with its sensitivity and compassion.

Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) is a young cellist who longs to be a master in the symphony. To his dismay, the orchestra with whom he is employed is dissolved, and he must seek other employment to support himself and his devoted wife.

To save money, they move back to his hometown. With few jobs available, he answers an ad in the newspaper and becomes an apprentice with an eccentric man who is a nakanshi (one who prepares the dead for burial).

Afraid to tell his wife, Mika (Ryoko Hirosue), out of fear that she would be horrified at his new job, Daigo learns his craft while sublimating his own fear of the dead. His boss, played in humorous fashion by Tsutomu Yamazaki, models a respect for the departed and a compassion for their families that teach Daigo many valuable life lessons.

When Daigo’s wife finally finds out what he is doing, she is disgusted and demands that he quit his position. When Daigo hesitates, Mika chooses to leave him and return to her parent’s home. Daigo is crushed, but his emerging love of people and his ability to touch their lives compels him to pursue his new path in life. In the end, his transformation is mirrored by his wife as she comes to see how profoundly fulfilled Daigo has become by his new life calling.

While the culture portrayed in the film is distinctly Japanese, the emotions that are shared are universal. Departures is not about explaining how the East differs in its approach to death from the West. Instead, it’s about the ability to be fulfilled in life through acts of kindness, gentleness, goodness and self-control. Through death, this is a story of how life triumphs.


» Humanity’s reverence of death is universal. Why do you think this is true?

» Saying goodbye to a departed loved one is often helped by preparation rituals. What rituals have you found helpful or distracting in your own culture?

» When Daigo hides his new job from his wife, Mika, her disgust is complicated by his secrecy. Why do you think he didn’t allow her to walk with him from the beginning of his own journey into this career change?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.