14. Departures (Okuribito) [*****]
Plot summary (from IMDb):
Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) is a devoted cellist in an orchestra that has just been dissolved and now finds himself without a job. Daigo decides to move back to his old hometown with his wife to look for work and start over. He answers a classified ad entitled “Departures” thinking it is an advertisement for a travel agency only to discover that the job is actually for a “Nokanshi” or “encoffineer,” a funeral professional who prepares deceased bodies for burial and entry into the next life. While his wife and others despise the job, Daigo takes a certain pride in his work and begins to perfect the art of “Nokanshi,” acting as a gentle gatekeeper between life and death, between the departed and the family of the departed. The film follows his profound and sometimes comical journey with death as he uncovers the wonder, joy and meaning of life and living.
One of the best movies I have watched this year. Although it was considered a dark horse of this year’s Oscar, it is indeed the Best Foreign Language Film.
Daigo seemed to find the commonality between music and Nokanshi when he knew more about his new job. Both music and Nokanshi can bring people comfort and peace. I am particularly moved by the movie because it tells the story implicitly but not restrained, which arises much sympathy. There is a Buddhism saying in China, 如人飲水,冷暖自知 (meaning: Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches), this movie really touches the greatest fear and worries of our hearts. When facing death, everyone is vulnerable. The function of the rituals of death is actually helping the living to cope with the death of love ones.
Motoki did excellent in the movie. He successfully portrayed an unsuccessful cellist who who was facing the darkest days of his life. An unexpected career change brought him new perspective in life, although it’s not a easy path. His new job as a Nokanshi also gave him a chance to know his father (who abandoned the family long ago) again. Tsutomu Yamazaki who played Motoki’s boss Ikuei Sasaki was amazing too. His sense of humor made the gloomy atmosphere more lively and he actually humanized the work of the Nokanshi.
The music of this movie was by the famous Joe Hisaishi. I didn’t realize until I saw the end credit, probably it’s because Hisaishi used cello as his theme this time. Nevertheless, I love it (not to mention cello is always my favorite).
Along with the plum blossom, the orchid and the chrysanthemum, the bamboo are called the “Four Gentlemen”.
To the Confucius, a Junzi (君子, means gentleman) is the ideal human of great virtue and Chinses artists normally use bamboo to symbolize Junzi. Therefore bamboo is one of the favorite plants of the Chinese intellectuals. Su Shi (1037–1101, great Chinese artist, poet and calligrapher) once wrote “寧可食無肉,不可居無竹。” (I’d rather have no meat for my meal, but I can’t live in a place without bamboo).
(something about this path. Actually it’s only a very short path. I waited for a long time till it was totally clear.)
Some photos taken in Kyoto. The quality of the scanner was bad at that time.