Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Movie Review - "Departures (Okuribito)"

Now that I have more time in my hands, I am able to do more things that I never had time to do before. One of those things is catching up on those indie and foreign films that come out and I always want to see. So with this said, welcome to the first Unemployed Robot Movie Review!

First movie up is a Japanese film called "Departures" or "Okuribito," which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film this past February. The one Hugh Jakman hosted. Word, I thought he did a pretty good job...

... A.D.D. is kicking in...

... and - I - am - back...

Ok, great. Here's the synopsis:
Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) is a talented musician who's orchestra abruptly disbands. Now unemployed (HOLLA!), Daigo moves back home to Japan with his wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) where he answers a classified ad for a company called "Departures," mistakenly assuming that he will be working for a travel agency. Turns out it's actually a business that specializes in preparing the bodies of the recently deceased for their trip to the afterlife. Daigo eventually but reluctantly accepts the position as a "Nokanashi" or "encoffineer" (the Japanese equivalent of an undertaker) and gradually gains a greater appreciation for life. He keeps it a secret from his wife and friends at first. They eventually find out and start to disown him. But his growing appreciation for the craft makes him a stubborn young fellow.

"Departures" is a film that I enjoyed very much. The story-telling was excellent, the insight on Japanese culture was stimulating, and the cinematography was simple yet sufficient. One of the things that surprised me the most was how humorous the film was. Director Yojiro Takita and writer Kundo Koyama were wise in their lighthearted approach to this material. This could've easily been a sad and depressing tale but instead the film celebrates the beauty of life by honoring death.

The opening scene, which takes place at a funeral, will draw you in immediately, showing you a ritual so different from our own that it makes you want to find out more. The way in which the body of the deceased is handled, washed and made up right in front of their loved ones is a thing of precise beauty. This somber moment is quickly broken by a comedic twist that sets the mood for the rest of the film. If I give it away now, it won't be that funny for you when you watch it.

Although I didn't care much for the acting, the characters in this film are well defined and sympathetic. The best performance in the film came from producer Tsutomu Yamazaki, who played Ikuei Sasaki, the owner of the undertaking parlor. His calm demeanor in preparing the bodies is intriguing. His motive for doing so adds a new level to the craft. We eventually discover just how much of a novelty his services are towards the end, making the character and the story something to cherish and respect.

Other than the acting, the only other negative note that I can think of is how harshly Daigo was looked upon when his line of work was discovered by his friends and wife. I just couldn't relate to why Daigo couldn't just tell his wife what he was doing instead of keeping it a secret from her. He was making pretty decent money and a, hey, a job's a job. But this critique can be easily written off as a cultural difference, which I can easily accept.

Overall, "Departures" is definitely a film worth seeing at the theaters. Wait, I don't have a rating system.... hmmm, I'll think of something for the next one.

Hope this review helps you make your next movie viewing decision. Take care.

Oh wait, one more thought:

Just a few years back Martin Scorcese won his first Oscar for the film "The Departed," which was a remake of the Hong Kong film "Infernal Affairs." "Departures" ---> "The Departed." I'm sensing some irony here. Is this a way of Asian cinema saying "screw you, American cinema. We can win oscars too with films that have 'depart' in the title." ... I'm reaching ain't I? :-/

1 comment:

  1. Asian cinema kicks ass! Infernal Affairs also won the Hong Kong version of the Oscars. It's only recently that it has gain tour de force by filmmakers like Ang Lee, Wayne Wang, Wong Kar Wai, and Takashi Miike to name a few that comes to mind in Hollywood.