The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

March 5, 2010

Lisa Brown: Film about dealing with death full of life

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.”

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