Departures (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner03/12/2009

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 130 mins

Yojiro Takita's Oscar-winning Japanese drama is beautifully shot, superbly acted and occasionally moving but the pacing frequently slows to a halt and the lengthy running time ensures that it wears out its welcome before the end.

What's it all about?
Directed by Yojiro Takita, Departures (Okuribito, original language fans) stars Masahiro Motoki as Kobayashi Daigo, a married cellist who's forced to move back to his rural Yamagata hometown when the orchestra he plays for goes bust. Daigo and his wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) duly move back into his family home, which he inherited from his mother when she died two years previously, his father having left home when he was just a child.

Needing money, Daigo answers an advertisement for a job in departures, believing it to be for a travel agency, so he's somewhat taken aback when it turns out to be for an assistant undertaker's position and even more surprised when he immediately gets the job. Under the tutelage of his kindly boss Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki), Daigo gradually comes to understand and appreciate the rituals of preparing a dead body for burial but he also knows that Mika isn't going to be happy when she finds out.

The Good
Departures was the surprise winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Film earlier this year, beating out the likes of Waltz With Bashir and The Baader-Meinhof Complex. At first glance, it's difficult to see why, though the final act goes all out for the sort of sentimentality you associate with Hollywood dramas, as previously buried father issues come to the fore.

Motoki and Hirosue are both excellent, bringing warmth and humour to their roles. There's also strong support from Yamazaki and Kazuko Yoshiyuki as Mrs Yamashita, the owner of a public bathhouse that plays a crucial role in the community.

The Bad
One of the main problems with the film is that Takita goes to such great lengths to show the preparation techniques that by the time the film is finished, you'll know how to do it yourself. This is fine in the intial stages but Takita repeats the scene several times and though it's undoubtedly a beautiful, contemplative scene, it loses its impact each time you see it.

Worth seeing?
Despite a lengthy running time and a few pacing issues, Departures is still worth seeing, thanks to its moving script and engaging performances.

Film Trailer

Departures (12A)
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Content updated: 21/09/2018 21:07

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