DEPARTURES: A film by Yojiro Takita was awarded Best Foreign Film earlier this year at The Academy Awards and is making its wide screen release May 29th. The story revolves around Daigo Kobayashi, played by Masahiro Motoki, a professional cellist who is informed that the symphony he belongs to in Tokyo is disbanding. With no hope for any future jobs as a cellist Daigo admits to himself that although he can play the cello well he’s not great and therefore must face reality and move with his wife back to his home town to live in his mother’s house that she left for him. Daigo searches the Want Ads and accepts a job that sounds too good to be true providing a lucrative paycheck. After realizing his new job has nothing to do with the travel industry but, instead involves the ceremonial “encoffination” of corpses prior to cremation, Daigo is faced with his own moral dilemma about the choice of making a lot of cash versus the stigma involving the judgement of society. His new secret career move also threatens his marriage to his wife, Mika, played beautifully by Ryoko Hirosue.

Masahiro Motoki as Daigo Kobayashi (L) and Tsutomu Yamazaki as Sasaki (R)

Masahiro Motoki as Daigo Kobayashi (L) and Tsutomu Yamazaki as Sasaki (R)

The film deals with a diverse pool of human emotions and experiences including changing career paths when your life is rooted in one particular direction- a theme that is very timely when the current economy threatens our jobs and forces us to change course. Other themes involve temptation of a better life while compromising our moral beliefs, finding passion in our life’s work giving meaning to our existence and finally making amends with familial wounds that often hold us back from enjoying life.

Though the trailer would have you assume this is a light comedy and although there is a fair share of humorous moments, the majority of the film showcases a cast of characters who methodically show their emotions as they parallel the original storyline. The film is lead by Motoki who won the Japan Academy prize for Best Actor. Motoki plays Daigo with sensitivity, innocence and ultimately strength in facing his destiny. Ryoko Hirosue who plays Daigo’s wife, does an excellent job of playing the supporting wife. Her facial expressions display a desire to want to believe in Daigo and their new path yet behind the support lies a looming doubt and Mika ultimately has her limits. The remainder of the cast is rounded off by Tsutomu Yamazaki who plays Daigo’s new boss Ikuei Sasaki,  at the encoffery – a man of few words but, takes equal passion in eating as a ritual as he does his work. There are several eating scenes that feature Ikuei, Daigo and Ikuei’s office manager, Kamimura Yuriko played  wonderfully by Kimiko Yo. Often the scenes involve little dialogue yet show the three of them devouring a bucket of juicy fried chicken or fresh octopus after a long day of dealing with dead people and their families. The scenes may seem callous or raw but, they draw parallels of the basic human realities of food for life and the reality that we all die at some point.

Kundo Koyama, who wrote the screenplay, along with Director Yojiro Takita do an amazing job of creating a story of crushed dreams and show how the human spirit will always find the strength to re-invent oneself while there is still life. DEPARTURES also deals with death and loss and but, shows the beautiful preparation of “encoffination” which carefully prepares the body to depart to the next phase. The film is exquisitely shot by Director of Photography, Takeshhi Hamada along an effective music score by Joe Hisaishi.

DEPARTURES is a satisfying film with a story that will have you pondering the many themes represented by the touching performances. Be sure to catch the U.S. premiere when it opens on May 29th in major cities. Here is a link with the openings in their respective cities: RELEASE SCHEDULE.

Check out the trailer for DEPARTURES below: