Genre - Drama
**ing - Ryôko Hirosue, Masahiro Motoki and Kimiko Yo
Release - 2008
The movie stars Masahiro Motoki (Daigo Koboyashi) as a devoted cellist with an Orchestra company in Tokyo, who becomes unemployed as the struggling company is dissolved. As a result, he decides to move to his ancestral hometown Sakata, along with his wife Mika (played by the beautiful Ryôko Hirosue). During his job search, he comes across the ad for a firm that specializes in 'assisting departures' (which he assumes might be a travel agency). He lands the job on the spot with ease, in an office full of coffins (still confused as to the work). Soon, he realizes that the job involves 'preparing the dead'. After some self deliberations, he halfheartedly accepts, mainly because the job pays well. He goes back home to celebrate with his wife and tells her that he would be responsible for carrying out some ceremonies. He has a unsavory first assignment which involves cleaning and dressing up the body of an old woman, that remained undiscovered for over two weeks. Returning in the bus, he notices his fellow passengers getting uncomfortable with a strange smell. He decides to go the public bath and clean himself before returning home to his wife. In spite of these events, Daigo shows the resolve to continue, which is a statement for the compromises that a person is willing to make for the sake of their family. More relevant in the context of the financial crisis that resulted in thousands of people going jobless.
As the movie progresses, with Daigo, the director takes everyone into a world that values culture and tradition, the gracefulness of such ceremonies, the gratuitousness of people left behind and the sense of fulfillment, even in an act of cremation that people at large generally consider morbid. The direction and cinematography is brilliant to say the least, and there is a sense of grace and respect accompanying the vivid details of these rituals. As Daigo performs more of such ceremonies, he starts getting a sense of respect for his job. A feeling not shared by his wife, as she discovers a DVD of these ceremonies, and threatens to leave him unless he quit and get a 'decent job'. Daigo refuses.
A few months later, his wife returns as she is pregnant and expects that Daigo must surely leave his profession now. Yamashita, one of Daigo and Mika's friends, loses his mother. During the cremation, Mika and Yamashita watch Daigo perform the rituals and discover a new-found respect for Daigo's profession as they witness the grace and beauty of these rituals.
|Daigo offering Mika a stone letter|
Okuribito (Departures) is a brilliant movie in every sense of the word. The director beautifully captures different aspects of Japanese culture (along with the contrast of small town vs big city), the hardships, strength of relationships, and above all the beauty of life and death with death not being an 'end' but 'just the beginning of a new journey'.