Yojiro Takita’s Departures (Japanese title is Okuribito) won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film this year, and if you watch the movie you’ll instantly know why. It is a stunningly raw exploration of death—I went to a screening of it this afternoon, and was blown away by it. It’s about a cello player who loses his job, moves back to his hometown, and gets a highly unusual new gig as a corpse dresser-upper.
This movie will make you think about death. It’s something many of us are uncomfortable talking about. I volunteer at an AIDS hospice once a week, and the experiences I have there are constantly reshaping my perspective on it, and the way I cope. I think Takita is brave to address death so directly in a movie and also to bring dignity back to the controversial Japanese funeral system.
Masahiro Motoki (aka Mokkun), the now-45 year old former boy band star, does an amazing job in the lead, and Ryoko Hirosue is charming in her role as his wife.
Here’s a video of the director and cast members receiving the Oscar, plus a clip of Takita saying, roughly, that the Japanese tend to want to avoid talking about death and that’s why he wanted to see how that would play out in a movie. He also gives a special shout out to Mokkun for playing a huge role in bringing the crew together and says, half of this award belongs to him:
Departures opens in the Bay area on May 29. Be sure to buy tickets and go with someone you don’t mind bawling next to. (read: Not great for a first date.)