Departures movie poster
MPAA rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama, Foreign
After his orchestra disbands, Daigo, a cellist, decides to move back to his old hometown with his wife to look for work and start over. Winner of 2009 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
Starring: Masahiro Motoki, Ryoko Hirosue
Director: Yôjirô Takita
Running time: 2:10

Editorial Review

Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) once dreamed of being a successful cellist, but now the sensitive young man has taken up a new line of work: preparing the dead for burial. When we first meet him, he is sponging down the corpse of a beautiful woman, dead by her own hand, as the stricken family watches.

Or is it a beautiful young man? That first twist in "Departures," Yojiro Takita's 2008 Academy Award-winning film, is an early warning: This film will break taboos. But unfortunately, "Departures" will not break free from the maddening Japanese taste for sentimentality.

This shouldn't necessarily deter American audiences. This is a movie that could never be made in America. It doesn't flirt with death as a plot twist or denouement but is thoroughly immersed in dying from beginning to end. Gentle comedy helps the full immersion process. After performing Beethoven to an almost empty concert hall, Daigo and his fellow musicians learn that their orchestra is being disbanded. He is self-aware enough to know that he has lost his last, best job as a musician. When he sees an employment listing for someone to help with "departures," he naturally assumes it's a travel agency.

He's no more through the door of the "departures" agency than he realizes it's lucrative work, and soon he's hooked. Daigo is apprenticed to an old master of the craft (Tsutomu Yamazaki). The two men form an unlikely friendship, as the older man quietly prepares Daigo to take over the business. The strength of the film is relationships. The weakness is the film's social agenda, which is all in the service of old traditions. Add to this the film's predictability. Daigo's father left him when the boy was young. Now Daigo is forming a new father connection with his casketing master. Where could this be going?

In spite of all that, it's easy to see why the film took the Academy Award last spring. It is as polished as it is heavy-handed, and it leaves one under a spell.

-Philip Kennicott