Japanese Film Festival ’09 Part II: おくりびと/Departures

June 27, 2009 at 4:21 pm | Posted in Outings | 4 Comments
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Before I begin with the review, a little rant. I’ve just signed up for a free site on this place called ‘freei.me’, and tried to install WordPress on it- well, if ‘tried’ covers clicking all here and there whilst reading reams of incomprehensible technobabble and eventually leaving the account to rot in a dark corner of the internet as I grumble yet again… well then. Let the review begin:

‘Departures’, known in Japan as Okuribito (Official Site), was screened in the recent Japanese Film Festival. I missed it, and virtually kicked myself on the head a few times for such a slip, until I heard that the cinema which ran the Festival, strangely, would be screening Departures for a few more days. Still, I ran into a spot of trouble- the online ticketing site crashed as a result of too much traffic (Or more likely, they forgot to pay tech support).

Well then, what else can I say about a show that’s won the Academy award for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’? Nothing much, come to think of it, but let’s start with someting simple. When I heard that a Japanese movie had been nominated for the Oscar, I instantly gave it my support, without even knowing anything about it. I thought that it didn’t win (Obviously I was mistaken on this), but was still disappointed that I couldn’t catch it.

My bad. ‘Departures’ won the Oscar, along with a host of other awards here and there. The director must have had quite a bit of fun, flying all over the world to collect those funny little trophies. Now everyone who has heard of the movie, or who has watched the movie, or plans to watch it, will surely know something about what the movie is about- wikipedia has a smashing summary of it- a cellist in Tokyo finds himself out of a job, and moves back to his hometown in Yamagata, where he becomes an encoffiner. There. A summary as spoiler-free as one can possibly be.

Yamagata is a lovely place. Out of the four movies which I watched in this Festival, Departures is the only one that is set almost completely in the countryside. The locals even speak a charming dialect- for example, they pronounce the pronoun ‘watashi’ as ‘watasu’- and instead of ending sentences in ‘ne’ or ‘na’ they end it with ‘nou’. Watching Daigo (Our former cellist) teach his wife Mika the local lingo was a sweet moment.

Although it deals with death, ‘Departures’ isn’t a gloomy, depressing sort of movie. I watched it with my mom, and although she complained that there wasn’t enough humour in it, I felt that there was just enough to keep the show balanced. It’s not meant to be a comedy, after all. It’s not meant to be depressing, either. Ah, come on, just look at the poster- it’s all cheerful and pinky, and the very first scene in the movie is really an elaborate joke.

‘Departures’ is a relatively simple yet lovable movie, and I found myself actually anticipating what would happen next- would the story turn towards A, or towards B? Ah, it’s taken the high road to C, which means that it will eventually end up in D… get the picture? I’d really love to add real names and events to it, but then that would be giving away too much. So shoot me.

Motoki Masahiro (本木雅弘) as Kobayashi Daigo was pretty good- he carried out his role as the quiet, nice-guy husband role pretty well. According to wiki he even trained under a mortician for the role. Hirosue Ryoko (広末涼子) as his wife Mika was, well… she didn’t have much to do in the movie besides fulfilling the male ideal of a beautiful, loving, supporting wife- although she does throw in a sharp pre-heated wrench into Daigo’s life as a result of him taking up his job.

And about that job… I know that most Asian cultures have some sort of taboo about death, but I’ve never really cared too much for it. It’s ridiculous, really- as Daigo’s boss says in the movie- ‘Even the meat you are eating is a corpse. We all live off the dead… unless you’re these guys’, pointing to his lovely indoor garden.

‘Departures’ clocks in at two hours and thirteen minutes long. It didn’t feel that long at all, though. Time just seemed to pass by peacefully as I sat in the theatre, the seconds ticking along with every word spoken, every snowflake that fell to the earth, every body Daigo had to collect… OK, I’ll shut up now:3

What rating to give this movie? I don’t normally rate, or review, for that matter, live-action movies- it’s a gorgeous movie, but does it deserve a 5/5, which in my definition means ‘epic’? A sublime masterpiece? I don’t know. Yes, I love it, but would I watch it again and again? Certainly not tomorrow, or the week after. But I might pick it up one day months later when I’m feeling bored, and remember, ‘ah, this one’s a gem’… ‘Hey, Hirosue Ryoko was too cute to be true in this one too’. Somehow English just doesn’t seem to cut it here. The only word to describe her would be to squeal ‘kawaiiiii~’

Yes, I’d better shut up before you start to think that I’m only giving this rating- 5 out of 5- because I liked Mika. No, seriously, it’s a good movie! If only you could stop staring at her and listen to me- come on, I managed to do it for most of the show……

Previous Events:

Japanese Film Festival 2008

Japanese Film Festival 2009


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  1. @A20-man: Intriguing… Having never seen it, I’d probably give it a 4 of 5. For me, beyond the cinematic charm or beauty, if the film is exquisite enough to move me to tears or near-tears, that’s a tell-tale sign of a 5. But I didn’t sense that from your description. Then again, like I said, I never saw it, lol.

    • I didn’t mention it, but it had me laughing and (nearly) crying. I get touched pretty easily though, so I shy away from giving out good ratings simply because my eyes leaked- you’d have an avalanche of fivers if I did, haha. Give it a try, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed^-^

  2. This sounds good. I think I’m gonna download it, Mr. Sensitive-feeler. I don’t get the big deal around death. Some (if not most) Asian cultures annoy me.

    • It ish good- you won’t regret it. Every culture is bound to have something annoying, but yeah, the one aspect of Asian cultures that I can’t stand is their/our problem with death.

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