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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Life + Arts

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Award-winning film compells audiences

At this year’s Academy Awards, Waltz with Bashir, a critically acclaimed documentary about the Lebanon War in 1982, was the heavily favored nominee in the Best Foreign Film category. Its use of animated sequences to depict the nightmarish ordeal of war and its toll on those who fight in it was widely received as provocative and compelling.

When the winner was announced though, it was not Waltz that won the award. Instead, Japanese entry Departures won the prize.

Though many have scoffed at the decision, it is hard to deny a film called ‘beautiful,’ ‘deeply touching,’ ‘masterful and glorious’ and ‘uncommonly absorbing.’ The film made its debut in U.S. theaters May 29. Luckily for Houstonians, the Angelika Film Center will be showing Departures for a limited time.

Departures follows Daigo (Masahiro Motoki), a young cellist who has just lost his job in an orchestra that’s being disbanded. Feeling that he’s gone as far as he possibly can as a cellist, he sells his instrument and returns to his hometown with his wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue).

He begins to look for a job and finds an advertisement in the newspaper with the rather vague job description of ‘assisting departures.’ When Daigo goes to the interview, however, he’s horrified to find out that the job is actually for the Japanese ritual of encoffinment – the preparation of the dead for burial or cremation. The ad, as his new boss points out, had a typo and was supposed to say ‘assisting peaceful departure.’

Though initially unable to stomach the duties of his new profession, Daigo grows to see the professionalism and tranquility behind encoffinment and develops a philosophy behind his job.

When his wife and longtime friend find out about his occupation, they try to persuade him to quit. As a result, his wife leaves him and his friend avoids him. It’s only through displaying passion for his job that he wins them back.

The story has more to it, but revealing too much would detract from the whole film, as its put together well.

What’s most remarkable about the film is that it’s not a huge, dramatic blockbuster. The story is quite simple and even predictable.

No dramatic rises in action or abrupt changes in tone are involved. The movie just moves smoothly through its paces and, at a little past the two-hour mark, Departures has the time to tell its story in full and you’re never rushed to get to the ending.

Motoki, who has received many international awards for his role in the film, is mostly subdued and passive as Daigo, but plays the character best while carrying out his passions with the cello and encoffinment.

These moments are his best in the film, especially during a small montage in the middle of the movie. His boss, veteran actor Tsutomu Yamasaki, plays the part exceptionally well, passing on his knowledge of encoffinment to Daigo. He also serves as Diago’s confidant as Diago eases into the job.

As Daigo is a cellist in the movie, music plays a huge part in the film. The score by composer Joe Hisaishi, whose compositions have been in films from famed animation house Studio Ghibli and offbeat director Takeshi Kitano, complements the film.

The elegant cello-based theme that surrounds the film is most significant as it ties into the story. The use of the instrument at the end makes for an emotional conclusion to the film and Daigo’s journey.

To say that Departures is a film about death is a misnomer. Indeed, the film explores a ritual performed for the dead, but there’s more to it. Rather, Departures is a simple and elegant film that explores those who live on after the death of people they were close to.

Departures (Okuribito)

Starring: Masahiro Motoki, Ryoko Hirosue, Tsutomu Yamsaki
Rating: PG-13
Verdict: Elegant in its execution, this Academy Award winner should not be missed.

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