Departures Review – A Work of Art

Most films I watch these days leave me deeply dissatisfied and often angry because there is little new to titillate hardened, cynical viewers like yours truly who think, rightly or wrongly, they’ve seen it all.

But the 2008 Japanese film Departures provided a pleasant jolt to my jaded senses and amply made up for the disappointments of the last few months.

When the movie ended, it was sunshine all over. 🙂

Brilliant Movie

Departures is a rara avis on two counts.

First, for the offbeat story of an “accidental” Japanese mortician.

After enduring the ordeal of Robert Downey Jr and Tom Cruise strutting about in ridiculous costumes in “non-story” movies like Iron Man 3 and Oblivion respectively, Departures‘ unusual theme had me spellbound. None of that crazy super-hero, alien-attack drivel here.

Second, the remarkable acting of the two main characters and the several secondary characters had me in raptures.

Masahiro Motoki playing the new mortician Daigo Kobayashi and Tsutomu Yamazaki as his boss Shōei Sasaki are master performers.

Even minor characters like, for instance, family members of the recently dead shine through with highly realistic and compelling performances.

Offbeat Story

When Daigo Kobayashi loses his job as a cellist at a Tokyo orchestra, he and his wife Mika move to his late mother’s home in snow-bound rural Sakata of Yamagata prefecture in northern Japan.

In the course of looking for a new job, he comes upon an ad for “Departures” at N.K.Agency, which our protagonist assumes is for a travel agent’s position.

Ha ha ha. Daigo couldn’t be more wrong in his assumption.

A newspaper typo has messed up the job description.

The ad is actually for a position to work with the “Departed” and has nothing to do with “Departures” to any exotic tourist destination.

By “Departed,” I mean the recently dead.

Daigo Kobayashi is mortified at the thought of having to work as a mortician dressing up dead bodies in ritualistic fashion before they’re encoffined and cremated.

But the pay is so good that he reluctantly accepts the offer.

Soon word spreads of Daigo’s new job and his friends and family ostracize him for pursuing a “lowly” calling.

Will Daigo wilt under the social pressure?

Or will he quit because the family pressure threatens his marriage?

Departures‘ director Yōjirō Takita is one of those rare souls in the film business who knows movies are meant to be a visual treat.

So like everything else in the film, the photography, lighting and set decoration too are beautifully handled.

There are occasional comic touches amidst the many somber moments of this remarkable film.

If all of the above are not enough inducements to see the film, there’s the fine haunting soundtrack.

After viewing the film, we discovered Departures had won the Best Foreign Film award at the 81st Oscar ceremony in February 2009.

We were not one bit surprised.

Movies like Departures come, if we are lucky, once a decade. strongly recommends Departures with the virtual certainty that my advice, as always, will fall on deaf ears.

Departures is available on DVD at Netflix.

3 Responses to "Departures Review – A Work of Art"

  1. vjcool   June 18, 2013 at 1:53 am

    Joe Hisaishi’s score is really good (as always). BTW no review of Totoro? (even if you don’t get animated movies) there are other things to write about.. like the music for instance.. have a look at jason and the argonauts, guess you will b pleasently surprised and entertained.

  2. boopalanj   June 18, 2013 at 5:46 am

    Great 🙂 Nice review.

  3. hispeed144   June 20, 2013 at 1:59 am

    Watched Departures(Okuribito) a year back.

    Watched The Hidden Face ( and Being John Malkovich (
    Both unique and thoroughly engaging films in their own respect.

    So was another Japanese film – Confessions ( – beautiful cinematography – extensive use of slow motion and a wonderful screenplay Responds:

    Will watch your other recommendations above.

    I don’t know if any of them can come anywhere near Departures in the off-beat story.

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