Daigo is a competent but unremarkable cellist with a small orchestra in Tokyo. When that orchestra goes bankrupt, Daigo knows he is not good enough to compete for better jobs at the professional level. Out of desperation he and his obliging wife, Mika, return to his hometown, a small city at the base of Mount Fuji. While living in the abandoned coffee shop his now dead mother once owned, Daigo answers an ad for a company called Departures, where he assumes he will be offered a position as a travel agent. Instead the company’s inscrutable boss teaches him the art of the Nokan, men who ritually prepare the dead for burial.
At first Daigo keeps his new job a secret from his wife and friends. And after preparing the body of an old woman dead for nearly two weeks, Daigo himself isn’t so sure about his new profession. But he soon gains fulfillment from his work as he comes to appreciate the virtues of his calling and the gratitude of the mourners. And as he learns more about his job, he comes to know more about himself and his own family, including the whereabouts of his father who’d abandoned Daigo as a child.
Departures is a small, gentle, sometimes sentimental film about appreciating life while we are blessed with it. It’s also about coming to terms with death and how even the littlest gifts matter when offered with a pure heart.
A couple of interesting notes about the making of the film: it took ten years to produce and the actor Masahiro Motoki, who played the main character Daigo, not only studied the art of ritual corpse preparation but also learned to play the cello for the film as well. It also won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009.
You can reserve Departures here.