Movie review: "Departures"

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

There's a distinctly Western feel to Japanese director Yojiro Takita's 2009 Academy Award-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, in that a lot of it isn't foreign except for language and specifics of culture, like the profession of encoffinment.

A process of preparing a dead body for cremation that's part practical matters, part spiritual progression, the trade is taken on by Daigo (Masahiro Motoki), a recently laid-off classical cellist, after he and his wife move into the home inherited from his late mother and he mistakenly reads the help-wanted ad as being travel-related. He learns it from his boss (Tsutomu Yamazaki), an expert at handling the deceased.

Daigo's appreciation for the ritual and reverence of his work grows alongside fresh restlessness over the father that abandoned him as a child and the opposition he faces among friends and his wife over the perceived distastefulness of the job. While the circumstances of this particular conflict may be new to us, its trajectory is familiar from the kind of American films that over-inflate personal drama to achieve a high yield of audience manipulation, and equate classical music and excessive running time with artistic importance.

Yamazaki is a treat in his supporting role, and scenes that focus on the story's central profession are genuinely unique and haunting. But all foreign-language Oscar nominees considered, Laurent Cantet's The Class was robbed.


Grade: C+