“おくりびと” (okuribito) – Departures (2008)

death …is a gateway. Death doesn’t mean the end, but leaving present, heading for the next stage. Truly a gateway. As a gatekeeper, I’ve seen off many people. “Have a nice trip, see you again”, I would say.

I’ve always known that respect was a large part of the Japanese culture (or most Asian cultures) but somehow, I’m always left in awe when I witness Japanese ceremonies (tea ceremonies, weddings etc.). I’m especially in awe of this one because of the deep significance and meaningfulness of this ritual. Everything is handled with such grace, precision, gentleness and class. The amount of care put into sending the person off is incredible.. I’ve always thought that encoffinning/ preparing the body (especially in the Western context, seen in movies) was quite.. for lack of a better word, violating. The bodies lie naked on a steel table while they replace their blood with embalming fluid, cleaning the body etc. In contrast, we see, in this movie, how the encoffinners (I may not be spelling that correctly.. I’m sorry if this pains you, please don’t make up a song about it hahaha) take extra care to ensure relatives, as well as the encoffinners themselves do not see these … private-er parts. The way the remove clothing, put on clothing, everything is done with so much grace it’s almost beautiful.

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It just fascinates me really – no matter how morbid this sounds – the beauty of the ritual. Its roots are in Shinto and Bhuddism, and as expected there are so many more things about it. I tried to find information on why each step is performed, the cupping of the face and hands, moving the hands of the deceased in a certain pattern before placing them back on the chest.. but such information eludes me for now. I did however find out why the undertakers asked Daigo to wet his father’s lips. This is called matsugo no mizu (last moment’s water), and it is done in preparation for revival in Yomi, the land of the dead. I also liked the way Sasaki (I think, Daigo’s boss) said that he was giving the deceased their first bath in their new life.

One of the few things I realised from the movie (they are actually really basic things, things that we all realise whenever tragedy in general strikes)

1. it reminds us to appreciate life for all that it is, to take care of what is important to us before it’s too late AND 2. death is unifying

d20 death unifies us

The scene where Daigo pries open (that is such an ugly way to describe it lol) his father’s hands to reveal the stone letter he gave him as a child. It was sort of predictable, but no matter, the effect is still there, as it always is with instances like these. Don’t let it be too late. Even though the movie portrayed this in a way that Daigo was still able to give his father a honorable send off and etc., a sense of reconcilliation through death where all secrets are exposed… It gave me the idea that that act somehow makes everything ok, like that was enough… i’m not explaining this properly haha sorry! it made me think about how people seem to congregate together after deaths, through rituals etc. We’re reminded that everyone is mortal, we’re all fallible and we’re all the same in the end.

Slightly off tangent, but I loved the way his father’s face was blurred in his earlier childhood flashback. It really hit the point very well. Although the emotions were still there, there’s a gaping hole in Daigo’s memory of his father.

3. all roles are important, regardless of the stigma associated with it

The idea of death itself is terrifying, that’s why we have all sorts of negative ideas and theories about death and dying (ie; terror management theory etc.). We try to avoid it, despite the fact that it is inevitable. We see this in the movie too, how everyone thinks death is unclean, how everyone somewhat shuns Daigo when they realise what his profession is. It’s so ironic. The huge role the profession plays in helping people come to terms with the departing of their loved ones, and how everyone seems to look down on it. It’s only when someone close to them actually dies before they realise the importance of the profession. Much respect.

4. although death is quite similar in every culture, the way people deal with it is incredibly different (based on context, culture, expectations etc.)

I like how the movie had a sort of montage of all their clients. We share the intimate moment that is their deaths, witness their family’s grief… The only gist we get of the deceased as a person being the lone photo of them in their life, smiling. Yet, that’s enough to evoke feelings of empathy and etc. We also see how death is different within the same culture. For most it’s grievous, causes for blame and anger. For others, it’s a celebration.. This all dependent on context of course. It also showed Kubler-Ross’s stages of death, anger, denial, acceptance etc pretty well.

What of my death?

Hopefully, that will be much later in the future. But I hope I will have done something to be proud of. I don’t want there to be silence at my funeral. I don’t want others to feel pain or to grieve over a death. I’d rather they think about life and happier moments, hopefully there would be some. There’s this Japanese film (animation) “Summer Wars” where an old grandmother dies peacefully in her sleep. Her funeral brought everyone together and she was celebrated, it was a happy affair. It’s a lot to wish for and it will take a lot of work, but I’d like to think mine would be something like that.

6. the old and the new 

There’s a part in the movie where the undertakers try to rush the casketting of Daigo’s father. I felt this was a clear illustration of how modernisation is destroying a little bit of tradition. Death has become an inconvenience, a disruption in everyday life.

It also reminded me of the idea that we all yearn for something simpler, like in “Dances with Wolves”. Daigo went off to seek better things, off to the city, going abroad. But things did not meet his expectations, his job he had worked and invested so much in was ripped away suddenly and he also missed spending time with his mother as well as her funeral. Modern life did not meet his expectations. Coming back to his roots, accidentally landing a simple enough job requiring no skills (as said) tending to the deceased and finally tending to his father in death.. Dealing with death brought him a sense of peace and a deeper meaning in life.

7. finalities (poignant farewells)

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that look.

I haven’t been to many funerals, mom considers it taboo and often leaves me at home. So far, I’ve only been to one and as terrible as it sounds, I just felt numb the whole time. I didn’t know what to feel. It was for a boy my age who I’d spent a lot of time with as children but had drifted apart from. He’d had an aneurism and passed away. At the funeral, I just did what everyone else did, like a drone with a specific set of instructions. I just felt so guilty because I couldn’t really remember him at all. The entire funeral to me was just a blur and I cannot imagine how his family and friends must have felt. Ill never forget the look on their faces when they looked into the coffin. The scene where the husband looks at his wife one last time, all made up and serene, before closing the door and sliding her into the crematorium really got to me. The movie captured that really well. The final farewell.

Overall, the movie started off pretty slow paced and sometimes it felt like too many things were happening at once, like the director wanted to try too many things. But I think the overall effect was still achieved, so that’s good. The second half of the movie was particularly moving, as we see Daigo get used to death and even deal with that of his estranged father’s.

Irrelevantly, watching these movies made me think about the obvious difference in cultures, even the way they shoot movies, techniques used etc. The overall feel is just so different. We’re all probably pretty used to Western movies so when we watch movies from other cultures such as Japan’s, it just feels very different. Not that Western movies aren’t artful, they are (deviate for a bit while I talk about Hannibal the tv series. Watch it a little, it starts very slow but it gets really good after a while. In that, as do many movies, the aesthetic quality of almost every single frame is taken into consideration, from colour, positioning, composition etc. It’s beautiful, but in a very different sense from the beauty we see in movies from other cultures like Japan’s), it’s just a very different type of artful. I’ve only watched a few Japanese movies (animations and real life ones), like Midnight Sun, Paprika and Studio Ghibli Films in general. The style is just so very different from the ones we see in Western movies. I can’t explain it, it just is. 

I maintain that anything with strings, ESPECIALLY the cello, or the double bass, in the background just immediately becomes more epic and meaningful. There’s just something about the deep, rich tones the vibrato.. *melts*

listen. < music from Departures. (i’m not forcing anyone to watch this, but ya know, i’m just saying, that this would be lovely to have as background music as you do your homework – ie; reading our tedious blogposts. danke shun :D)

okay, I’m out.

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