Last Saturday a friend and I indulged in a little matinee movie-going at the local arts movie cinema in Brooklyn Mall. Our choice was Okuribito or Departures, the 2009 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film. The unusual subject matter of this movie - a wonderful mix of human interest, black comedy, cultural enlightenment (for me) and beautiful visuals and cello playing - centres around the ceremonial Japanese custom of encoffinment in which the 'departed', the dead, are respectfully and artistically prepared before an intimate circle of mourning family and friends before being placed in a coffin and ultimately cremated.
'Could that topic make for entertainment?' you may well ask. Oh, yes, profound, funny, interesting and heartwarming is the story of young Daigo, a cellist, who loses his job in an 0rchestra and moves back to his hometown, far from the glitz 0f Tokyo, with his delightful wife. Here he apparently takes a job at a travel agent, only to find that the 'departures' referred to in the job ad refer to the departures of the deceased. Against his better judgement and eventually incurring the censure of his wife and friend, he learns to carry out the highly ritualised procedures of encoffinment and to appreciate the reconciliation that often takes place among the mourning family members. When his own estranged father dies, his involvement with 'departures' becomes personal. It affords him a moving opportunity for forgiveness and healing.
The movie took ten years to make and its producer initially doubted its reception in Japan where the subject of death is taboo. Well, now isn't the subject of death taboo in most cultures, including Western society? My personal experience is that death is just only manageable to most people if it is sanitised, sentimentalised or kept at a firm arm's length.
Rent this movie for an evening's worthwhile viewing. It may be sad at times, but it is hardly morbid.