Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hidden Gems: Departures

Death might just be the most sensitive subject to handle in the world of cinema. It's always riddled with emotion. If mishandled it can be disastrous, but if handled with a daft hand, the end result can be beautiful.

The Japanese film, Departures, is a film about death, atonement, and an appreciation of certain things that others find dishonorable. The film follows Daigo, a cellist for the Tokyo Philharmonic. When the orchestra is disbanded, Daigo and his wife move back to his hometown, where Daigo gets a job working as an encoffiner (people who prepare dead bodies for funerals). In Japan being an encoffiner is seen as a dishonorable profession, and Diago must come to grips with his change in fortune while also learning about the beauty of death.

Departures is an intriguing film, beautiful and highly emotional. To say that this is a moving film would not be doing it enough justice. The film is a fascinating piece of art. Director, Yojiro Takita directs the film much like Daigo plays the cello, with passion and intensity, often utilizing swelling crescendos and moments of silence to create genuine emotion. It is never manipulative, but simply beautiful.

The film is full of brilliant performances, in particular Masahiro Motoki as Daigo. Motoki delivers a performance that draws the viewer into the film. He takes you directly into the emotional state of the character, and he is a large part of the film's success. Of course it doesn't hurt when a film looks this beautiful and wondrous to behold. The cinematography is stunning. The film captures the beauty of the Japanese mountain ranges with so much clarity. To cap it all off, the musical score from legendary composer Joe Hisaishi is magnificent. Hisaishi's music always amazes me, but with Departures he has taken another step forward in his career.

The real treat of this film is that it laces all of the drama and tragedy with humor and heart. It's a recipe that just leaves you as the audience feeling uplifted rather than depressed. It's a film where if any tears flow, they will not be tears of sadness, but rather tears of hope.

After seeing this film I can definitely see how it deserved all of the accolades bestowed upon it (including the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the Academy Awards this past year). The film is brilliant. It is tough to find, but if you manage to find it online or playing somewhere near you, I strongly recommend seeing it and being moved by the power of this film.

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