In Judaism, we wrap the dead in robes, conduct a funeral procession leading to the graveyard, where people say prayers and bid farewell to the deceased. The, we bury the dead. It is a very simple ceremony. In Japan they do it differently.
I have spent the past twenty years studying death with dignity. I did not pay much attention to the issue of dignity after death. "Departures" hammers this theme and forces you to think and rethink.
Daigo (Masahiro Motoki) is a cellist whose orchestra had been dissolved. He is looking for work and the first ad he encounters is entitled Departures. Daigo believes this ad was placed by a travel agency. The available position, however, turns out to be with a company that meticulously prepares corpses for cremation. Daigo has to overcome his prejudices for the job, something he is able to do upon watching his mentor's dignified conduct; but then he has to face others, including his loyal, optimist and full-of-life wife (Ryoko Hirosue), who does not wish him to deal with corpses.
This slow and beautiful drama is about four people and one ghost that continues to hunt Daigo throughout his life, accompanied by beautiful music (if you like cello, this one is for you). The film is sensitively directed by Yojiro Takita. You cannot remain indifferent watching Daigo-Motoki's agony until he comes to peace with his ghost; the superb acting of Hirosue and Diago's mentor, Tsutomu Yamazaki, and the beautiful scenes of preparing people to their final departure. The final scene is breath-taking.