Friday, October 10, 2008

Study Abroad Japan Blog: Movie Review: Okuribito - (Departures) - "Simple but with a powerful meaning" - 5/5 A must see by

Review by, 

Copyright, 2009, All rights reserved.

Okuribito (Japanese site) or person who sends a dead persons soul on a journey (to heaven). It's name for western cinema is Departures.It is a movie that shares and explores Japanese culture.

In particularly it explores, the widely held superstitions about death and the people who work in the death industry (undertakers).It also touches on dealing with unemployment, personal relationships, unexpressed emotions about family and loved ones, following one's destiny and the impact of one's job on ones life.

The film is directed by by Yojiro Takita, and won the top prize at the Montreal World Film Festival in 2008.

It stars Masahiro Motoki who plays the lead character Daigo Kobayash, Ryoko Hirosue who plays Daigo's wife, Kimiko Yo (undertakers receptionist), Tsutomu Yamazaki (head undertaker).The full cast list can be viewed here in Japanese.

"Daigo Kobayashi is a young married cellist who played in an orchestra that has just been disbanded. Suddenly on the street without a job and no hope for a career, Daigo decides to move back to his hometown with his wife. There he gets a job as a nokanshi, an "encoffiner", an undertaker, the man who ceremoniously washes and dresses the dead bodies and places them in coffins, sending them onto the next world. He is a bureaucrat, a gatekeeper between life and death. Daigo's work is despised by his wife and all the people around him, but it is through the death that he encounters daily that Daigo finally begins to understand what life is about. Until our own "departure" arrives, we must undertake to "send off" those we have loved. This holds true for the love between married couples, parents and children, and the ties that bind relatives, friends and colleagues./span>"

Source: Montreal film festival

The Soundtrack : Okuribito

                             Copyright, 2009, All rights reserved.

The movie transcends culture and talks about universal topics, dealing with uncertainty (losing one's job), death and its positive and negative impacts on people's lives. It can therefore be understood and appreciated by a wide audience which has been shown by its recent award for best picture at the Montreal Film Festival.

Watching the film at a local cinema complex in Japan, the audience was made up of single men in their twenties, single women in there 20's, 30's and 40's, and elderly couples. The cinema was sold out which revealed how popular the film is becoming with local audiences.

Set in the present day the film tackles a number of issues including losing ones job unexpectedly and making the most of new opportunities. The impact of losing a job on a relationship. The importance of money on a relationship, the importance of having "the right" job in the community, difficulties of sharing bad news, difficulties of sharing one's feelings, difficulties of starting a new job, difficulties dealing with customers and dealing with death. The implications of dealing with the emotions of losing a loved one, dealing with personal family issues, watching the emotions of others who lose a family member and saying goodbye to family (a spine chilling twist of fate).

The movie delves into the layers of complexity in culture, relationships, expectations and family. It does this simply and without fuss by showing people in their daily life, dealing with challenges.

Masahiro Motoki who plays Daigo carries the film with his humble approach and ongoing spirit. His wife played by Ryoko Hirosue reveals the fragility of their relationships and playing up to social norms. Kimiko Yo as the undertakers receptionist is a relaxed balanced character who balances a somewhat difficult job and adds humour and insight. Tsutomu Yamazaki plays the head undertaker and portrays the typical boss, leaving the underling to learn by example and by dumping his workload as the new employee gains more skill. He comes across as relaxed & supportive, a change from western perceptions of a Japanese boss. A man of few words who allows Daigo to explore his new job and to discover the insights the job has to offer.

Watching the film in Japanese allows you to take in the full meaning. From a western perspective though many themes portrayed may be hard to understand.

For example: the disdain of working with "the dead". It seems that "undertaking" is a real cultural taboo but it is not explained or discussed, just presented.

Another difficult theme is the fragile nature of Daigo's relationship with his wife and her unhappiness of him having a paid job.

Make no mistake the film is a tear jerker. It has a number of powerful scenes that will deeply involve you.

It is a simply shot movie with strong characters set in the present day. It allows western viewers a front row seat into Japanese culture, relationships and dealing with grief.

Rating: ***** 5/5

Memorable, powerful and insightful.

PS. don't forget to take a handkerchief you will need it!

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