Now that we’re inching our way out of winter, are you in the mood for a feel-good movie about life, death, and relationships? If so, “Departures” might be for you. This sweet, meditative movie, the 2009 winner of an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, will have you smiling through your tears.
Early in the story, musician Daigo Kobayashi realizes that he’s a man of big dreams but modest talent. In quick order, he loses his orchestra job, sells his cello and moves back to his hometown.
He’s looking for a change — and employment. He finds both when an ad entitled “working with departures” piques his interest.
He’s surprised when he’s offered the job during the interview. He’s even more surprised when he learns that he’ll be working as an encoffiner, someone who prepares a body for burial or cremation.
His new boss explains that the ad had a typo; it should have read “the departed” instead of “departures.”
Daigo accepts the position but hides its true nature from his wife and friends, fearing their disgust. As he becomes more familiar with the job, however, he begins to appreciate its beauty and necessity. He and his boss provide a service that benefits the families as well as the deceased.
“The rite of encoffinment is to prepare the deceased for a peaceful departure,” Daigo tells a grieving family. They are invited to watch as he gently and respectfully positions the body, cleans it, and dresses it. There is profound sadness on their faces, but also fascination; they find comfort in the ritual.
He takes pride in what he does and realizes he’s good at it. When his wife discovers his secret and tells him to get a “normal” job, he replies, “Normal? Everyone dies. I’ll die, and so will you. Death is normal.”
Daigo’s close proximity to death and the family dramas that result from it — parents blame each other for a child’s untimely death, relatives debate whether a cross-dresser should be presented as a male or a female — set him on a journey to reconnecting with his past.
Key to that journey is his rediscovery of a rock wrapped in sheet music. Daigo later explains the significance of giving someone a rock.
It’s a “stone letter,” he tells his wife. “Long ago, before writing, you’d send someone a stone that suited the way you were feeling. From its weight and touch, they’d know how you felt.”
Toward the end of the movie, Daigo’s past returns in a major way, and he performs the encoffining ritual for someone he hasn’t seen in many years. As he prepares the body, past and present meet, and a fuzzy, forgotten face comes back into focus. The moment is powerful and moving.
“Departures” is a meditation on life and death, but it’s far from sorrowful. There is plenty of laughter.
Daigo’s first day on the job is filled with indignity; let’s just say there’s a giant diaper involved. His extreme reaction when encountering his first corpse — that of a woman who’s been dead for two weeks — is hilarious but wholly understandable. And during his first solo run as an encoffiner, he makes a startling discovery while bathing the body.
It’s easy to see why this movie won an Academy Award. From the ballet of the encoffining ritual to the majestic landscape of northern Japan, it’s lovely to look at. The music is beautiful, too, and will linger in your mind.
But it is ultimately the story at the heart of “Departures” that makes it great. It doesn’t rely on 3-D technology, billion-dollar special effects or cameo appearances by a dozen Hollywood stars. It is simple and universal, and it sneaks up on you, packing an emotional wallop that you might not expect.
Not enough films do that these days.
Lisa E. Brown is the Administrative Assistant of the Joplin Public Library.
- Globe Life
Prototype of a drying rack for Stars of Hope earns award, emotional response
Michael Moritz, Travis Coffee and Kenneth Paylor had no idea that an assignment for their senior design class at Missouri Southern State University would win an award or the emotional gratitude from a service organization.
Ryan Richardson: Groups give tips for preventing dog bites
When I was a teenager in the '90s I had an unfortunate incident with my neighbor's dog, a Brittany, that I had grown up with. It took a chunk out of my thigh when I went into the neighbors' yard to retrieve a ball.
Frankie Meyer: Information is only as good as its source
Those details later become crucial as contradictory information is found, which it will be. How can one decide which detail is correct if the sources of the details are unknown?
Jeana Gockley: Library lines up reading club books
The Joplin Public Library's annual Summer Reading Club kicks off on Tuesday, May 28, so in preparation for a great summer of reading, I have been digging for titles that fit with this year's "Dig Into Reading" theme.
Frankie Meyer: Prepare for holiday visits to cemeteries
Memorial Day weekend is the ideal time to not only decorate the graves of loved ones, but also learn the location of unmarked graves -- and learn about relatives who are buried nearby. That weekend is also a great time to contact living relatives.
Patty Crane: Mystery series should appeal to Reacher fans
In the novel "Taken" by Robert Crais, a bajadores is a predator that kidnaps people being smuggled into the country. The bajadores, the Syrian, demands ransom from families of the people he kidnaps. His ransom demands are low, and as long as the families pay, the demands continue.
Ryan Richardson: Harness works better than a leash
This is the time of year to take your dog outside to enjoy the weather. You both get exercise, you bond more, and it gives you an opportunity to work together as a team. I take my dog out as much as I can, and my dog is happy to see other dogs when we go on walks.
Mutual admiration: Academic Team members thank teachers for inspiration, drive
Members of The Joplin Globe's All-Area Academic Excellence Team thanked teachers for inspiring them to push themselves during a recognition banquet Monday at Missouri Southern State University.
Linda Cannon: Book covers subtleties' effects on humans
I'm always a sucker for books on what makes people tick, so I grabbed "Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces that Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave" by Adam Alter as soon as I saw it. Alter holds a Ph.D. in applied psychology from Princeton and is an assistant professor at NYU.
Frankie Meyer: Old home sites treasures to discover
We genealogists do a similar activity as part of our research. The treasures that we seek are old home sites. Instead of using GPS coordinates, we use clues such as the presence of rusted metal, cellar holes and vintage plants.
- More Globe Life Headlines
- Prototype of a drying rack for Stars of Hope earns award, emotional response