30 March 2010

Departures | Okuribito

Death has always been a taboo but Departures has turned this unspeakable subject into an art of sublimity. Daigo Kobayashi is a cellist who finds himself unemployed as his manager decides to dissolve the band. His wife and he make a big decision of moving to his hometown and living in his long-forsaken place which was once a cafe owned by his Father.

Daigo, then, accidentally gets accepted to work as a person who prepares the dead body for their funeral, a ritual that is at once very artistic and typical of a dying Japanese convention. Even though some people look down on him and think that what he is doing is improper, especially his wife, who threatens to leave him, Daigo finds this job spiritually rewarding as he perceives how people show suppressed emotion and passion, something that is quite impossible to express when the dead were alive. He learns the great truth of humanity, how everyone's life has some moments of greatness and beauty and how everyone deserves at least a little bit of dignity when they die.

Perhaps one can see that Daigo's decision to take this job is caused by his need for love, which has been denied to him by his broken family, especially when his Father decided to move out and live with one of his cafe staff, to the distress of his mother and him. However, through this job, which is demeaning to some, Daigo manages also to learn some of the most meaningful lessons -- forgiveness and unconditional love.

Of course, in a way we can see Departures as a very masculine film, in which two generations of men learn about each other, with women taking back seats and looking at them with support and respect. One can see that perhaps the ending is a little bit too melodramatic when Daigo manages to remember his Father's face, symbolically recognizing the role of fatherhood that he needs to perpetrate. His wife, on the contrary, just smiles and quietly lets him continue this honorary job. With this line of thought, one can also think of how Japanese society is still very much in close alliance with patriarchal codes. But somehow the film does portray the sweet and impressive side to these codes, not the oppressive ones we usually see.

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