The film critic, Roger Ebert, rated the Japanese movie Departures (Director, Yojiro Takita, 2008) as one of the best movies of all time (available on Netflix). It was the Academy Award winner for best Foreign Language Film, and I agree with Ebert that it is one of the most beautiful films ever made. It seems very strange to use the word “beautiful” to describe a film about funeral practices! A young cellist loses his job when the orchestra is disbanded, so he returns home and answers a help-wanted ad for “Departures”, thinking it is a travel agency. But the “departures” are of a more spiritual nature, helping people to grieve by preparing their loved one’s body for cremation. It is impossible to do justice to the film by describing it – you have to experience the powerful emotions the film releases by watching it. The stunning scenery and photography, the sensitive acting (Masahiro Motoki, Ryoko Hirosue), the assured writing and direction and the spiritual message of the film, all contribute to make it a joy to behold.
The Japanese have a long history of movie making, including some of the best films ever made. Ugetsu Monogatari (Director, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953) and Seven Samurai (Director, Akira Kurosawa, 1954) are from the golden age of Japanese film making. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) and Spirited Away (2001) are wonderful animated fantasies by Hayao Miyazaki. Shall We Dance (Director, Masayuki Suo, 1996) shows how dance frees trapped emotions. For pure fun I recommend a recent American-Korean movie filmed in Japan, The Ramen Girl, starring Brittany Murphy and veteran Japanese actor, Toshiyuki Nishida. Nishida plays a chef who teaches Murphy how to prepare Ramen. Her training (Karate Kid style) begins with cleaning toilets. The story inspired me on my recent trip to London to find a Wagamama restaurant and have Chicken Ramen with dumplings. Mmm… delicious!