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4.7 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 January 2010
This film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards ceremony in 2009. It is certainly unusual, and I rate it very highly indeed. Daigo Koboyashi loses his job as a 'cellist in a Tokyo orchestra, and he and his young wife, very charmingly played by Ryoko Hirosue, are forced to go back into the country and stay in the small house left to him by his mother. He needs work and gets it - as the assistant to an aging but highly expert 'encasketer' - that is, someone who prepares a dead body for burial, a ceremony conducted in the presence of family and friends. The ceremony, to Western eyes unfamiliar, is carried out with great dignity and care, and is an opportunity for those close to the departed to say farewell and to express their grief. The advert. for the job has been vague (partly the result of a misprint) and Daigo does not know what he is letting himself in for. For a while he faces many difficulties and eventually his marriage is under strain, but he stays with the job and comes to admire the skill and professionalism of his employer and to value highly the service they give to the bereaved. There are many other plot strands in the film, but, for those who have not seen it, I cannot write about these, except to say that eventually the work comes very close to Daigo personally, and when that happens, the film is extremely moving - the cinema in which I saw it was hushed, and some of the audience were in tears.

But it is also very funny. There is a bizarre side to the work (as, for example, when the encasketers discover - in front of the family - that the corpse - a girl, it would seem - has a penis) and there is a good deal of black humour in the earlier part of the film. All of the principal characters - Diago, Mika (his wife), the encasketer and his female secretary - are sympathetic characters and it is very easy to empathise with them, so that as the plot moves on, we become involved. Its quaintness is a plus too. Not only is the encasketing ritual intriguing, the town in which Diago and Mika stay, the bathhouse they visit, the very beautiful countryside (sometimes snow-covered) are all visually absorbing. Far on in the film, Diago is filmed playing his 'cello on a raised bank by a road with a snow-covered mountain in the background, and this is striking, even if it is also impossible to believe that he ever actually did this.

The film is quite long and I thought might outstay its welcome, but just at that point there was a splendid coup de theatre (in a fishing village) which really struck home - and then it ended. It was thoroughly enjoyable, beautifully acted and directed and, in its strangeness, memorable. I recommend it with enthusiasm.
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on 9 January 2012
This is a movie about acceptance. The protagonist was a cellist, and lost his job in a symphony at the city. He went home to his birthplace, a small town, and accepted a job as a person that prepared the dead (put clothes and make-up) for burial. Its a thankless job that the Japanese society disdains. Though the job paid well, the protagonist felt ashamed and had to hide his job from his wife and his childhood friends which in turn generated plenty of comic and tragic situations. In seeking resolution to his childhood and new dilemmas, the protagonist finally received the ultimate enlightment by preparing his long-lost deceased father for burial. This is a very well-done movie, it trancends all cultural boundaries because who hasn't in life that hasn't seek understanding and acceptance from our fellowmen for our own thoughts and actions. I believe this universal theme is the reason why it received the BEST FOREIGN PICTURE OF THE YEAR at the 2008 Oscar.
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on 7 March 2010
Hollywood mastered the construction of emotional roller coasters long ago but endless repetition inevitably results in cliche. Departures uses similar techniques, but manages to avoid feeling contrived because the cultural underpinnings are fresh and unfamiliar, to Western audiences at least. This film is a small gem that will make you laugh and cry, providing that you are still on this side of the Styx. Highly recommended.
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on 31 December 2010
This is such a good film that it has to be in my top 30 movies. I originally saw it at a film conference at Glastone's Library a five muinet clip. There are not many films that treat death and how the dead are respected as this film dose. The sense of dignity that is there is worthy of a closest examination. With gentle humourn the film showsnthe dignity of preparing for peoples departure, not (and this is not a real spoiler) for their holiday but following their death. In the UK in the past it was the community mid wife who prepared the body for the funeral director to come and collect - laying it out washing and dressing it. A friend who's husband recently died said this was done by a couple of the carers who again did it with a great deal of dignity.
Departures is a great film the humour makes it lighter and the acting is superb, the direction well orchestrated and the music will haunt you until you look it up on the web.
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on 16 November 2012
This film grabbed from the start because the opening scenes are of a Japanese pre-funeral rite called encoffinment. Like a Japanese tea ceremony for the dead it is fascinating in its own right and this allowed the audience to establish the characters. There were some real funny parts that made me think of the early and good Six Feet Under. But the director did not play this for laughs, and there was a some pathos that made you cheer for Daigo the uneployed cellist turned undertaker. Although not a professional musician Masahiro Motoki learned the cello so that he could carry of his performance credibly. The soundtrack by Joe Hisaishi is very appropriate. He is known as the John Williams of Japan. The film is about endings and beginnings and it achieves both very well.
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on 2 March 2012
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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 November 2015
Prior to watching an Oscar winning film I inevitably feel apprehensive as to whether it will stand up to all the plaudits heaped on it. In the case of Departures, winner of Best Foreign Language Film in 2009, I needn’t have been concerned, although at first glance a film about a Japanese traditional funeral business doesn’t fill one with massive anticipation. However, from the very first scene I had a sense that this was going to be a uniquely remarkable film and so it proved. This is a beautiful, sensitive, poignant and moving meditation on life, death, grief, family and responsibility as we observe the profound growth and development of Daigo Kobayashi, a recently married 36 year old unemployed musician having to return to his remote rural home town. Daigo is able to secure employment as a ‘nokanshi’ (a traditional Japanese ritual mortician) and through the dignified nature of the work eventually finds inner peace and enlightenment, overcoming self-doubt and prejudice. The departure ceremony scenes are powerfully sublime and affecting, and when the comic moments happen they blend seamlessly into the narrative and are not ‘add-ons’ providing light relief to the intensity of the situation. The cinematography and musical score combine wonderfully with the straightforward and unsentimental screenplay, making watching this film a surprisingly uplifting experience.
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`Departures' is a beautiful Japanese film that left me surprised by it's depth and poignancy. This follows a young cellist, called Daigo Koboyashi, whose Orchestra is disbanded and so he returns with his wife to his home town to earn a living. He takes a job as an encoffiner (someone who puts the deceased into their coffin) and learns the trade from an experienced older mentor. He is shunned by some parts of society due to the taboo nature of his job, but he gains the respect of others when they see the level of dignity and honour with which he handles the deceased. There is more to this film, but I won't spoil your enjoyment by divulging it here.

This film has a wonderful score and the direction is among the best I have seen from a Japanese film of this type. This film is beautifully framed and it has some amazing scenes showing the ceremony where they prepare the various deceased people. The story kept me engrossed throughout and despite it's gentle feel, it also has a degree of gravitas and emotion simmering beneath the surface the whole way through.

I wasn't expecting to enjoy this film as much as I did and despite being a fan of Japanese cinema, even I was surprised at how well constructed, acted and directed this was. This is a moving and heart warming drama and if you are a fan of world cinema, or just wish to see an excellent film in it's own right, then this comes highly recommended indeed.

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on 20 July 2015
love this film. its so gentle and moving....words fail to describe the emotions played out. I cannot tell people to watch this story, because my words would betray the mires of both sadness and happiness they will be bogged down in before the end. Tissues are advised for certain viewers
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on 16 September 2011
I bought this DVD becasue I was so intrigued by the storyline - a cellist who becomes a reluctant encoffiner.And if you don't know what this profession in Japan is then you should watch this film.The story is not complicated or deep but it is exquisitely poignant.At times it is funny but throughout it is very moving and if you allow your emotions to win the tears will flow.All in all a wonderful film to watch.
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