Thursday, July 22, 2010


Listened to one of my favorite film scores today, one by the Japanese composer, Joe Hisaishi. Mr Hisaishi has written the score for a string of Takeshi Kitano films, among them the award winning 1997 picture, Hana-bi (Fireworks), but in 2008 he ventured out to work with director Yôjirô Takita. The film was Okuribito, known in the US as Departures, winner of the 2009 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Numbers of filmgoers, both industry professionals as well as average movie fans have described Okuribito as one of best movies in years. That certainly reflects my own opinion. (To hear a short soundtrack clip, click on the YouTube link below.)

The story… Cellist Daigo Kobayashi plays in a symphony orchestra in Tokyo until the orchestra is dissolved. Without job or prospects, he sells his cello and with his wife returns to his hometown in Yamagata Prefecture. In need of work, he answers an ad in the classifieds, believing it to be a job in the travel business. To his surprise and horror, he learns the available position is actually one of preparing bodies of the deceased for cremation and burial. Despite the shock of his wife and friends, Kobayashi unexpectedly finds meaning in this work of serving as a kind of gatekeeper between life and death.

The theme of the movie weaves in and out of emotions surrounding the death of loved ones, yet writer and director handle this theme so gracefully it becomes a thing of rare beauty. And through it all Mr Hisaishi’s score provides strong support of story, action and emotion. It is an alternately funny, sad and touching story, and oddly enough teaches the viewer much about the almost theatrical Japanese art of the nokanshi, or undertaker. We learn too, to see death from unexpected, sometimes heartbreakingly beautiful angles. The last scenes of the movie are especially poignant as Kobayashi comes to a late-in-life reconciliation with his long lost father. I won’t offer any details on this; see the movie.

Watching the growth of this man is a marvel of storytelling and character building, to see him overcome the social stigma of his job, as well as those cruelly personal aspects of the work. It is this new job of preparing bodies for cremation that leads him back to his cello and the joy of playing.

By all means, rent, borrow or buy this DVD. Naturally, an English sub-titled version is available at retailers and rental stores.

Okuribito (Departures) 2008

Director: Yôjirô Takita

Writer: Kundô Koyama

Score: Joe Hisaishi

Stars: Masahiro Motoki, Tsutomu Yamazaki

1 comment:

  1. What a poignant, beautiful film. Thank you for writing about it.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America