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Departures
UKScreen Rating:

Departures – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Daigo (Motoki) is a cellist in a failing big-city orchestra. When it closes down, he and his wife Mika (Hirosue) move back to his home town, to the house he inherited from his mother.
Desperate to find a job, he applies for a position in “departures,” expecting it to be a travel agent – but Ikuei’s (Yamazaki) business involves departures of another kind.
Initially ashamed by his new job, Daigo is soon entranced by the elegance and grace of his new vocation – preparing the recently deceased for their final earthly journey – from their home to the crematorium.
Cleaning and dressing the bodies – in front of the bereaved relatives – the ritual is almost like a ballet – a highly respectful last dance.
The new job brings tension to Daigo’s personal life, as it drives his wife back to the city – but it eventually helps him come to terms with the ghosts of his own past.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

This film provides a fascinating insight into what appears to be an element of Japanese culture that had eluded me until now.
The respectful rituals performed in front of bereaved relatives at their lowest ebb are quite beautiful to watch, as the families are brought closer to closure.
Watching Daigo almost bringing the dead back to life seems to be a metaphor for the way his returning to his old home appears to bring this dying town back to life.
The problem with this film is that the central character isn’t interesting enough and his emotional journey lacks originality and depth.
It was nicely tied up, but characters such as the wife were too thinly drawn and the humour was rather incongruously simplistic and obvious.
At more than two hours in duration, it’s also far too long for a film which moves this slowly without that much to say.
Films about characters returning to their roots as they struggle to get their lives back together and come to terms with the past are two-a-penny and aside from the revelations about the departures ritual itself, what happens in this film doesn’t offer anything particularly life-enhancing – which for a film about the preparation of dead bodies might not come as too much of a surprise, but it does come as a bit of a disappointment.
Visually it’s simplistic, dramatically it’s thin, emotionally it’s cold and thematically it’s unrevealing and as such, it’s perhaps surprising that this film won the Foreign Language Oscar in LA this year, against competition including Waltz with Bashir, The Class and The Baader Meinhof Complex.

opens 4th December 2009

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