Departures was for me both a surprising and rejuvenating work of dramatic cinema I yearned for to kick off the new year. 2010 is already off on the right foot with blockbusters The Hurt Locker and Sam Rockwell‘s one man show Moon and I can only hope those two don’t overshadow a gem not to be missed. Directed by Yôjirô Takita and co-starring a personal Japanese favorite, Tsutomu Yamazaki (Tampopo), Departures chronicles life and death through the story of an inspired cellist Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) turned undertaker. Though I’d classify the film of the dramatic genre, it still slaps you with a bit of dark humor every now and again. In Japan, the undertaking business is probably comparable to our social ethics toward say pornographic filmmakers for example. It’s dirty, foul and those involved are subject to social isolation. Such cultural morals are important to take along as a companion to Departures.
A misprint in the papers draws Daigo to a job interview for NK Departures, a business he believes to deal in travel booking. The taboo career keeps Daigo weary of his new career choice but as the film develops, Daigo begins to develop a new passion in life. The characters are all wonderfully drawn and the script introduces them flawlessly. The sometimes dark and quirky humor placed within the film also helps to liven up the characters and create a sense of reality. Undertaking involves both life and death and the characters are all subject to emotions on both ends. Daigo embodies the idea of mortality during the funeral scenes and portrays death as more than just an ultimatum of life but as the beginning of a new journey. Since Japanese culture plays an important role in Departures, the plot can at some moments feel awkward but the end of the film greets the audience with a strong sense of the characters’ morals and the means for their actions are met with reason. The camera work is accessible to just about anyone. It doesn’t confuse, and ultimately even aids the plot.
Departures, winner of multiple awards including the 2009 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, is a fantastic way to start off your New Year’s viewings. With its outstanding cast of believable characters and moving plot, Departures is already a fighting contender for the best DVD release of 2010. – [DVD]
DVD Release Date: 1/12/10