Departures

 

This was the official website for the 2009 movie, Departures. The content below is from the site's 2009 pages and other outside sources.

 

SYNOPSIS

Nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film of the year, "Departures" is a delightful and sensitive excursion into the heartland of Japan and an astonishingly beautiful look at a very special part of Japan's cultural heritage.
A premiere symphony orchestra in Tokyo disbands, leaving Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) suddenly unemployed.  Suffering from an innate sense that he is a mediocre musician, he faces up to the fact that not everyone who has devoted their life to music can become a top artist. With wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue), in tow, he moves back to his home town in the northeastern prefecture of Yamagata.  They move into the crumbling remains of his mother’s house, which doubled as the local pub. 


Spotting a Help Wanted ad featuring the word “departures,” he is excited about the prospect of trying a new career in the travel industry.  He arrives for the interview, curiously eyeing the coffins lining the back wall of the office.  The company owner, Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki), hires him on the spot, with only a cursory glance at his resume. Daigo finally ventures to ask what is involved, exactly, and is stunned to learn what he has gotten himself into; the ceremonial “encoffination” of corpses prior to cremation.  Sasaki urges him to take the job, proffering large amounts of cash.  He’s getting older, and needs someone to carry on the tradition.
In desperate straits, Daigo overcomes his initial trepidation and begins to travel around Hirano with Sasaki. Sasaki is comically matter-of-fact, but firm in his directives, and the contention that they are providing an important service to their community.   Some cases are markedly traditional, featuring beatific family members in time-honored transition.  Others highlight family dramas fraught with inevitable collisions, eased into unexpected conclusion.  True to Sasaki’s expectations, Daigo develops a deep respect for life in all its variations, and a profound empathy for people trying to make peace with the finality of death.
Too embarrassed to tell his wife about his conversation-stopping profession and admit that he has fallen in love with the townsfolk, Daigo vainly tries to keep his new life secret. As their relationship hangs in the balance, the big question is how he’s going to react to surprising news she brings, as an encoffineer, as a husband, as a son and as a human being.   It is Daigo’s turn to deal with life and death among the people who are dearest to him.
A story of love, of discovery, of revelation and of the transcending human spirit, "Departures" will linger in your heart and mind long after viewing.

________________________________________

ABOUT THE DIRECTOR

Born in 1955, Takita joined Hiroshi Mukai’s Sushi Productions as an assistant director in 1976 making his directorial debut in 1981 with “Chikan Onna Kyoshi” and going on to helm some twenty adult films. His first commercial feature, “Komikku Zasshi Nanka Iranai!” (1986), was received warmly at the new York Film Festival, and his subsequent filmography include “The Yen Family” (1988), “We are not Alone” (1993), “The Exam” and “Secret” (both 1999). In 2001 his special effects fantasy “Onmyoji” (The Ying-Yang Master) stormed the box office and eventually generated a sequel, “Onmyoji 2,” in 2003. This was followed by widespread critical acclaim in 2003 for his historical drama “When the Last Sword is Drawn,” culminating in an impressive haul of trophies including Best Film at the 2004 Japan Academy Awards. His latest films include "Ashura" (2005) and "The Battery" (2007).

   

Academy Award® Winner: Best Foreign Language Film


 "Director Yojiro Takita and his casting director, Takefumi Yoshikawa, have surpassed themselves. In a film with four principal roles, they've found actors whose faces, so very human, embody what Departures wants to say about them... The music is lush and sentimental in a subdued way, the cinematography is perfectly framed and evocative, and the movie is uncommonly absorbing. There is a scene of discovery toward the end with tremendous emotional impact. You can't say it wasn't prepared for, but it comes as a devastating surprise, a poetic resolution."
- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

"It's a deeply touching movie exploring an incredible range of emotions. Unforgettable."
- Jeffrey Lyons, Reel Talk

"A gorgeous drama...beautiful moments abound."
- Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal

"I regard Departures as the most moving film I have ever seen commemorating the bonds between the living and the dead."
- Andrew Sarris, New York Observer

"Enormously affecting, even haunting film with a superb lead performance by Masahiro Motoki."
- Bilge Ebiri, New York Magazine

"When you see the poetic, funny and life-affirming film, you'll have to say that this time the Academy got it right."
- Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel

"A gentle film...warmhearted...(made with ) beauty and  precision."
- Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times

 "An incredibly fulfilling movie experience...In a season devoted to movies that go crash-bang-boom, this film offers quiet joy, beauty -- and an amazing array of feelings."
- Marshall Fine, Hollywood and Fine

"This powerfully moving exploration of love and loss is leavened by humor and the revelatory grace of the ritual itself."
- Karen Durbin, Elle Magazine

"It will resonate with anyone who has ever buried a loved one and struggled to reconcile the myriad emotions—grief, anger, helplessness. Which is to say, everyone."
- David Edelstein, New York Magazine

 "A beautiful film."
- Angela Walker, Christian Cinema


"Picturesque and graceful with touches of gentle comedy, awash in lovely images and a gorgeous music score by Joe Hisaishi, with one poetic sequence following another... Filled with expressive, contemplative scenes and performances that are quietly powerful, Departures is a sensitive,  bittersweet masterpiece that earns its tears honestly."
- Richard Knight, Jr., Windy City Times

"This is truly masterful and glorious filmmaking that's guaranteed a spot in my Top 10 of the year. "
- Edward Douglas, ComingSoon.net

"Departures turns out to be a delightful surprise, at once an engaging dramedy and an eloquent social statement. "
- Bob Mondello, NPR

"This film is absolutely amazing..so well made it transcends the limits and strictures of language and its native culture. This film speaks to its viewers in the gentle and loving respect it shows its characters and through them, its viewers.  How long has it been since you had the opportunity to be cherished by a motion picture? "
- Ted Ott, Valley Scene Magazine

"Fantastic performances...a wonderfully humanistic story."
- Luke Crisell, Nylon

"Every so often, a film comes along that is the whole package—that accomplishes everything that transforms a movie into a true work of art. Departures, winner of the Academy Award® for Best Foreign Language film, is such a film. It is a beautiful film at each level—visual, aural, emotional, spiritual, plot. As a whole, Departures stands as a sterling example of what film can be."
- Darrell Manson, Hollywood Jesus

"A Japanese work of cinematic art that is as delicate in subject matter as it is majestic through detail.... shines golden with heartwarming scenes and outstanding acting performances.."
- Candice Winters, Campus Circle

 "A gentle, transfixing film experience that takes itself on storywise as an elegy for the dead but in some miraculous way, reaching to higher a epiphany, makes you reexamine the spiritual connections in your own life."
- Sean Chavel, Cinecon

"Easily the best movie I've seen thus far this year...beautifully done."
-Rev. Chris Carpenter, Movie Dearest

"An exquisite cinematic masterpiece that is both funny and sad and all the emotions in between; it touches the heart with its treatment of beauty, music, death, and abandonment."
-Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice

"The film takes an unusual and unique subject, but it is handled with grace and humor. It is a brilliant piece of art, and I have a great admiration to the director Yojiro Takita, for putting this film together"
- Mark Rydell, President of the Jury / Montreal World Film Festival

 


Winner 10 Japan Academy Prize Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor
Winner - Grand Prix de Ameriques: 32nd Montreal World Film Festival <>
Winner - Mercedes Benz Audience Award: Best Feature, Palm Springs International FF
Winner - Golden Rooster Award: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Masahiro Motoki) <>
Winner - Hawaii International Film festival: Audience Award
Winner - Hochi Film Awards: Best Film <>
Winner - Nikkan Sports Film Award: Best Film, Best Director
Winner - Kinema Junpo Awards: Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor (Masahiro Motoki)


 

 

Academy Award® Winner: Best Foreign Language Film


 "Director Yojiro Takita and his casting director, Takefumi Yoshikawa, have surpassed themselves. In a film with four principal roles, they've found actors whose faces, so very human, embody what Departures wants to say about them... The music is lush and sentimental in a subdued way, the cinematography is perfectly framed and evocative, and the movie is uncommonly absorbing. There is a scene of discovery toward the end with tremendous emotional impact. You can't say it wasn't prepared for, but it comes as a devastating surprise, a poetic resolution."
- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

"It's a deeply touching movie exploring an incredible range of emotions. Unforgettable."
- Jeffrey Lyons, Reel Talk

"A gorgeous drama...beautiful moments abound."
- Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal

"I regard Departures as the most moving film I have ever seen commemorating the bonds between the living and the dead."
- Andrew Sarris, New York Observer

"Enormously affecting, even haunting film with a superb lead performance by Masahiro Motoki."
- Bilge Ebiri, New York Magazine

"When you see the poetic, funny and life-affirming film, you'll have to say that this time the Academy got it right."
- Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel

"A gentle film...warmhearted...(made with ) beauty and  precision."
- Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times

 "An incredibly fulfilling movie experience...In a season devoted to movies that go crash-bang-boom, this film offers quiet joy, beauty -- and an amazing array of feelings."
- Marshall Fine, Hollywood and Fine

"This powerfully moving exploration of love and loss is leavened by humor and the revelatory grace of the ritual itself."
- Karen Durbin, Elle Magazine

"It will resonate with anyone who has ever buried a loved one and struggled to reconcile the myriad emotions—grief, anger, helplessness. Which is to say, everyone."
- David Edelstein, New York Magazine

  "A beautiful film."
- Angela Walker, Christian Cinema

"Picturesque and graceful with touches of gentle comedy, awash in lovely images and a gorgeous music score by Joe Hisaishi, with one poetic sequence following another... Filled with expressive, contemplative scenes and performances that are quietly powerful, Departures is a sensitive,  bittersweet masterpiece that earns its tears honestly."
- Richard Knight, Jr., Windy City Times

"This is truly masterful and glorious filmmaking that's guaranteed a spot in my Top 10 of the year. "
- Edward Douglas, ComingSoon.net

"Departures turns out to be a delightful surprise, at once an engaging dramedy and an eloquent social statement. "
- Bob Mondello, NPR

"This film is absolutely amazing..so well made it transcends the limits and strictures of language and its native culture. This film speaks to its viewers in the gentle and loving respect it shows its characters and through them, its viewers.  How long has it been since you had the opportunity to be cherished by a motion picture? "
- Ted Ott, Valley Scene Magazine

"Fantastic performances...a wonderfully humanistic story."
- Luke Crisell, Nylon

"Every so often, a film comes along that is the whole package—that accomplishes everything that transforms a movie into a true work of art. Departures, winner of the Academy Award® for Best Foreign Language film, is such a film. It is a beautiful film at each level—visual, aural, emotional, spiritual, plot. As a whole, Departures stands as a sterling example of what film can be."
- Darrell Manson, Hollywood Jesus

"A Japanese work of cinematic art that is as delicate in subject matter as it is majestic through detail.... shines golden with heartwarming scenes and outstanding acting performances.."
- Candice Winters, Campus Circle

  "A gentle, transfixing film experience that takes itself on storywise as an elegy for the dead but in some miraculous way, reaching to higher a epiphany, makes you reexamine the spiritual connections in your own life."
- Sean Chavel, Cinecon

"Easily the best movie I've seen thus far this year...beautifully done."
-Rev. Chris Carpenter, Movie Dearest

"An exquisite cinematic masterpiece that is both funny and sad and all the emotions in between; it touches the heart with its treatment of beauty, music, death, and abandonment."
-Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice

"The film takes an unusual and unique subject, but it is handled with grace and humor. It is a brilliant piece of art, and I have a great admiration to the director Yojiro Takita, for putting this film together"
- Mark Rydell, President of the Jury / Montreal World Film Festival


Winner 10 Japan Academy Prize Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor
Winner - Grand Prix de Ameriques: 32nd Montreal World Film Festival <>
Winner - Mercedes Benz Audience Award: Best Feature, Palm Springs International FF
Winner - Golden Rooster Award: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Masahiro Motoki) <>
Winner - Hawaii International Film festival: Audience Award
Winner - Hochi Film Awards: Best Film <>
Winner - Nikkan Sports Film Award: Best Film, Best Director
Winner - Kinema Junpo Awards: Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor (Masahiro Motoki)


Rotten Tomatoes

Director Yojiro Takita and writer Kundo Koyama examine the rituals surrounding death in Japan with this tale of an out-of-work cellist who accepts a job as a "Nokanashi" or "encoffineer" (the Japanese equivalent of an undertaker) in order to provide for himself and his young wife. Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) is a talented musician, but when his orchestra is abruptly disbanded, he suddenly finds himself without a source of steady income. Making the decision to move back to his small hometown, Daigo answers a classified ad for a company called "Departures," mistakenly assuming that he will be working for a travel agency. Upon discovering that he will actually be preparing the bodies of the recently deceased for their trip to the afterlife, Daigo accepts the position as gatekeeper between life and death and gradually gains a greater appreciation for life. But while Daigo's wife and friends universally despise his new line of work, he takes a great amount of pride in the fact that he is helping to ensure that the dead receive a proper send-off from this state of being.

 

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material)

Genre: Art House & International , Drama

Directed By: Yojiro Takita

Written By: Kundo Koyama

In Theaters: May 29, 2009  Wide

On DVD: Jan 12, 2010

Box Office: $1,500,000.00

Runtime: 131 minutes

 

TOMATOMETER  CRITICS 81%  |  AUDIENCE 92%

CRITIC REVIEWS

 

Richard von Busack 
MetroActive

September 18, 2014

The laughter and family fights that break out at funerals might be part of this movie's rural, working-class eye. Departures favors farmland and old-fashioned wood-fired bathhouses over the Tokyo mania. It celebrates old-style, hands-on craft.

 | Original Score: 4/5 stars

 

Tony Rayns 
Film Comment Magazine

November 17, 2013

The scripting of Departures (by Kundo Koyama, the one-man TV-drama writing factory who nurtured such delights as Iron Chef) is embarrassingly clunky and obvious: the movie's essential hollowness reveals itself with unusual starkness.

 

Kelly Vance 
East Bay Express

August 26, 2011

No doubt the best movie you'll see this year about the Japanese traditional funeral business.

 

Nick Rogers 
Suite101.com

September 25, 2010

Death is normal, and so are responsibilities, reconciliations and retreats from what we think are our dreams. In a resolution about identifying ourselves, and loved ones, in life and death, "Departures" shows some people must be left just as they went.

 | Original Score: 4/4

 

Cris Kennedy 
Screenwize

July 4, 2010

Lead Masahiro Motoki apprenticed with real nakanshi for the role, and you become entranced by his performance, and the gentle clash of ritual and grief, custom and modernity.

| Original Score: 4/5

 

John A. Nesbit 
Old School Reviews

February 24, 2010

like the unfolding of a Mozart concerto

 | Original Score: A-

 

Edward Porter 
Sunday Times (UK)

December 11, 2009

This Japanese film's receipt of the award for best foreign-language picture at this year's Oscars was a case of the Academy favouring bland sentimentality.

 | Original Score: 2/5

 

Philip French 
Observer (UK)

December 11, 2009

The film, mostly set in a wintry landscape surrounded by snow-capped mountains, is fastidiously composed.

Coffin Job

Japanese feature 'Departures' brilliantly hovers between comedy and tragedy

By Richard von Busack

THE BEST comedies are always uncertain about what side of the line they fall on. Sometimes, a tragedy seems about to break out at any minute. Departures, the surprise best foreign film winner at this year's Oscars, proves that there's just as much potential for humor in a death comedy as there is in a sex comedy.

Departures begins with a kind of sketch: two men from the undertakers come to the "encoffining" of a beautiful girl. The ceremony is exquisitely solemn—corpse-arranging is yet another fine Japanese art—including cloth folding, cleaning and anointing. While sponging the body, Daigo (Masahiro Motoki), the younger of the two encoffiners, finds out that the deceased had an embarrassing secret, a debacle that he handles quickly.

He wasn't always that cool. In flashback, we learn that Daigo played the cello in a Tokyo orchestra. We see its performance of Beethoven's Ninth, performed for about a dozen grim-faced music fans. Laid off afterward, Daigo is in serious debt, since his expensive new cello set him back some $186,000. Without a better idea, Daigo decides to leave Tokyo to reclaim his family home in the country in Yamagata Prefecture. Daigo's adoring wife, Mika (Ryoko Hirosue), agrees to the plan, seemingly without doubts. Looking for a job, Daigo finds a newspaper ad for work helping out "Departures."

Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki), the boss, looks Daigo up and down. "You're not depressing," he judges and tosses Daigo's résumé on the floor without reading it. He hires Daigo right on the spot. It turns out that the ad was a misprint. Daigo will be working not with departures but with the departed. This business sells and fills coffins. Though old Sasaki claims that fate sent the young man there, Daigo can't accept it. He hides his new job from his wife; when Mika finds out, she regards her husband as an untouchable and leaves him.

What follows are slices of life in the death trade. Daigo becomes aware that what had seemed like a job was actually a vocation. He's very good at handling the formalities, and the harsh situations: untimely deaths, suicides by charcoal inhalation or the aftermath of a motorcycle crash. The long winters in Yamagata set the mood of mourning. If Daigo doesn't look depressing, he's serious enough for the occasions, and he has his own dark issues: Daigo's father left him and his mother when he was young.

Certainly, his new boss is a fine replacement for any lost dad. Sasaki is a man among men. Yamazaki, never to be forgotten as the John Wayne–like trucker in the 1985 Tampopo, is an actor of absolute gravity and unreal smoothness, and he gives a top movie-star's performance in this role. Yamazaki's suaveness just gets richer as the film goes along.

To watch Sasaki at work is to sort of wish you were dead already. He has the aspect of a magician, explaining the steps to the mourners: "I will now affix the lid. ..." Likewise, he also resembles an alchemist: transforming a distinctly green corpse into the likeness of a sleeping, peaceful wife. (The deeply touching incident has a sharp punch line; part of Sasaki's reward for a job well done is some cold teriyaki: dead meat.) In the presence of death, the old man has a hearty appetite; he hosts a Christmas party, which turns into the drollest chicken-eating scene since Tom Jones. "I'm such a good cook," he rumbles, "that I hate himself."

Yamagata Prefecture supposedly has a reputation as a region of bumpkins. It's easy on the eyes; the snow-covered volcanic cones and the wetlands remind one of Washington State. Maybe the earthiness of the people is a regional-comedy touch in all the characters, from the farmerlike, tranquil Sasaki to his salty, forward secretary (Kimiko Yo, a pleasure to watch).

The laughter and family fights that break out at funerals might be part of this movie's rural, working-class eye. Departures is backward looking; it favors farmland and old-fashioned wood-fired bathhouses over the Tokyo mania. It celebrates old-style, hands-on craft.

Director Yojiro Takita has impeccable timing and a constant bubbliness. He expertly mixes what seems like unmixable material. In one moment, clouds of swans fly as Daigo practices his cello in the countryside; in an earlier scene, Daigo emits a Jimmy Stewart–style gobble of panic after Sasaki casts him as a model corpse for a training film. (Daigo is sort of a fussbudget; caught by his wife after having hidden the purchase of the cello, he dithers his hands—the cartoon gesture of a husband found out in a lie.)

Departures goes long. One perfect scene—a crematorium operator's tale of a Christmas Eve he spent once—goes on to explain itself and spoils the mood. The reconciliation of Daigo to his father's memory stalls, even after it's clearly inevitable. Still: Departures is a movie about death that's suffused with the joy of living.

 

Nicholas Barber 
Independent on Sunday

December 11, 2009

This heartfelt, unpretentious, slyly funny Japanese film is worth waiting for.

 

Amber Wilkinson 
Eye for Film

December 7, 2009

Director Yojiro Takita and writer Kundo Kayama ... aren't afraid to give you an emotional punch as well as a punchline.

 | Original Score: 4.5/5

 

Philip De Semlyen 
Empire Magazine

December 4, 2009

Heart-warming, funny, wise and profound. Not to be missed.

 | Original Score: 5/5

 

Top Critic

Trevor Johnston 
Time Out

December 4, 2009

The movie gestures towards deep emotions, but an abiding soft-grained superficiality effectively insulates us from the piercing realities of grief.

 | Original Score: 2/5

 

Jon Fortgang 
Film4

December 4, 2009

Doesn't quite justify the enormous plaudits heaped upon its shoulders, but a warm-hearted comedy-drama with its own likeably odd sensibility.

 | Original Score: 3.5/5

 

Kevin Maher 
Times (UK)

December 4, 2009

Fascinating, witty and heartfelt.

 | Original Score: 3/5

 

Xan Brooks 
Guardian

December 4, 2009

Yjir Takita's bitter-sweet tale of the Japanese funeral trade plays a bit like a formal service itself.

 | Original Score: 2/5


Daily Telegraph (UK)

December 4, 2009

A safe and emotionally generous crowd-pleaser.

 | Original Score: 3/5

 

Adam Woodward 
Little White Lies

December 4, 2009

Moments of clarity and pragmatism are contradicted by flashes of inanity and dry, if well-delivered humour.

 

Jamie Russell 
Radio Times

December 4, 2009

Departures's whimsical take on the Japanese funeral industry proves surprisingly funny.

 | Original Score: 4/5

 

Charlotte O'Sullivan 
London Evening Standard

December 4, 2009

Departure's cynicism, ironically, is what makes the optimism of its last act so moving.

 | Original Score: 4/5

 

Allan Hunter 
Daily Express (UK)

December 4, 2009

A sentimental but beguiling charmer of a film.

 | Original Score: 4/5

 

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