Friday, November 12, 2010

Okuribito (Departures)

I don't know whether I would call Departures a dark comedy, although it has those elements.  It's a more straightfoward drama with comedic moments, but the very subject matter forces the dark comedy label.  Whatever the label, Departures is an enjoyable, off-beat story.  Daigo plays the cello in an orchestra.  Alas, the orchestra's not making any money and must be disbanded.  Searching for a new job, Daigo sees an ad for "Departures," thinking he's applying for a job at a travel agency.  The company does prepare its clients for a journey, but not the type of journey Daigo has in mind. 

Even though he learns that the job actually is to prepare corpses for burial, Daigo, desperate for a job, decides to go on with it.  Perhaps in every culture such a role leans to some degree of social marginalization, but it's so much true in the small Japanese town here that Daigo doesn't tell his wife what he's doing, and his former friends shun him.  But Daigo presses on, recognizing the important role he plays in the families' time of need.  His boss and mentor teaches him the trade and helps him learn about life.

It sounds like an unlikely start for a great movie, but the acting is wonderful and the story, compelling.  I'm not the only one who thinks so; Departures is the winner of the 2009 Oscar for Best Foreign Film.  Slow paced, avoiding convention, Departues is Oscar-worthy and worth the viewer's time.

Bottom line, 3 stars.

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