Departures (movie review)

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!

About John Fisk

I am a retired pastor, who served churches in New England for 33 years. I emigrated to the USA from England in 1974 and completed two graduate degrees in theology and pastoral practice at Andover-NewtonTheological School. In retirement I am focused on the teaching of Christian meditation, providing spiritual guidance, leading retreats and occasional preaching. I am particularly interested in contemplation, the mystical path and social justice.
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3 Responses to Departures (movie review)

  1. jenlynsanb says:

    Thanks, John, for the recommendation–we watched “Departures” last night….a perfect film in contemplating Lazarus coming out from the grave. It truly was beautiful. I’m so glad you suggested it.


  2. Wendy Oliver says:

    John, I’ll add this to our movie list for sure.
    Every so often I get a poem coming in, not thought out by me but there for me to take as a dictation. This morning this came in, starting during meditation, by the way! My sister Julie was widowed last year and she has said sadly a few times that she should get rid of Jimmy’s clothes but wasn’t ready to…and recently I visited her to help organize some things and console. I was wondering how I’d feel if Charlie died and I was told that I should get rid of his things. I’ll type it as I received it, reserving as always the right of a PK to use certain vocabulary when needed.

    The Closet

    I didn’t know what was in there.
    I didn’t know it was Jimmy’s clothes.
    Is there some requirement that we have to get rid of someone’s clothes when they die – is that one of those prescribed stages to proper getting-on-with-it?
    Does it make someone else feel better that we’re “taking the right steps?”
    Are we not supposed to grieve?
    When we lose the one we love the most, don’t we deserve to hold onto that tiny bit that’s left, that essence, that smell, that feel that it tears our heart out not to have any more?
    I’m sorry – NOT – to say that I don’t want anyone telling me that it will be healthy or better or right to “let go.”
    I’ll grieve in my own way, and I’ll hold on in my own way.
    Like I don’t know he’s gone?
    Give me a … break.
    It’s my closet.
    The essence stays.

  3. Pingback: “The Still Point” Annual Review | The Still Point

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