×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Departures

A failed cellist connects with his inner undertaker, his rural hometown and his newly deceased father in the tonally eccentric, lushly scored meller "Departures."

With:
With: Masahiro Motoki, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ryoko Hirosue.

A failed cellist connects with his inner undertaker, his rural hometown and his newly deceased father in the tonally eccentric, lushly scored meller “Departures.” Fascinating glimpses into a unique profession trump the pic’s emotional manipulation and substantial length, suggesting that its top prize in Montreal could lead to fest action and, following judicious postmortem editing, selected arthouse engagements. Shochiku will unveil the pic domestically September 13.

Crushed at the breakup of his Tokyo orchestra, for which he’d just spent a fortune on a new instrument, guilt-ridden Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) retreats to his picturesque northern Japan hometown with adoring wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue, sparkly) in tow.

He responds to an ad for a job, and is shocked to discover “working with departures” refers not to a travel agency, but to “niche market” firms hired by morticians to perform “encoffinments.” Having never seen a dead body, but offered a great deal of money as salary by his eccentric new boss (Tsutomu Yamazaki, deadpan), Daigo takes the job but is too ashamed to tell Mika. Ick factor aside, Daigo’s discovered his true calling.

Popular on Variety

Inspired by Japanese author Shinmon Aoki’s mortician memoir, “Coffinman,” the pic’s best parts reveal the meticulous and stylized casketing of bodies for cremation. Performed — for that’s precisely the word to describe it — in front of family members in various stages of grief, the ritual involves washing, dressing and grooming the body; the trick is to do it while exposing a minimum of skin.

TV scribe Kundo Koyama’s first bigscreen script peppers the proceedings with rich character detail and near-screwball interludes that shouldn’t fit but somehow do, owing to Motoki’s appeal. More worrisome is a sappy montage at the 90 minute mark and a subsequent half-hour-plus that could be tightened considerably by vet helmer Yojiro Takita with no loss of impact. Hirosue has a perky appeal, and wily Yamazaki steals most of his scenes with a minimum of effort.

Tech credits are pro. Joe Hisaishi’s typically showy score never met a heartstring it couldn’t pluck, and those responsible for the corpses, be they prosthetics or actual thesps, knock ’em dead.

Departures

Japan

Production: A Shochiku release of a Tokyo Broadcasting System, Sedic production. (International sales: Shochiku, Tokyo.) Produced by Yasuhiro Mase, Toshiaki Nakasawa, Toshihisa Watai. Directed by Yojiro Takita. Screenplay, Kundo Koyama.

Crew: Camera (color), Takeshi Hamada; editor, Akimasa Kawashima; music, Joe Hisaishi; production designer, Fumio Ogawa; costume designer, Katsuhiko Kitamura; sound (Dolby Digital), Satoru Ozaki. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (competing), Aug. 23, 2008. Running time: 130 MIN.

With: With: Masahiro Motoki, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ryoko Hirosue.

More Film

  • Oprah Russell Simmons Documentary

    Oprah Defends Decision to Exit #MeToo Doc: 'This Is Not a Victory for Russell' Simmons

    Oprah Winfrey explained her decision to step away from “On the Record,” an expose about sexual harassment in the music industry, including women who have accused mogul Russell Simmons of misconduct. The documentary, from filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, will premiere at Sundance on Jan. 25. Winfrey, who served as an executive producer and [...]

  • 'A Quiet Place 2' Still Emily

    Paramount Pictures Intl. Strikes Landmark Distribution Deal with Italy's Eagle Pictures (EXCLUSIVE)

    Paramount Pictures International has signed a landmark distribution partnership with Italy’s leading independent distribution company Eagle Pictures. Under the deal, Eagle Pictures will release Paramount titles in the country starting in March with John Krasinski’s anticipated horror film “A Quiet Place 2.” Since 2017, Paramount Pictures has had its films released by Fox in Italy, [...]

  • Some Kind of Heaven Documentary NYTimes

    Why the New York Times Is Getting Into the Documentary Films Business (EXCLUSIVE)

    Lance Oppenheim didn’t set out to make an 83-minute documentary when he started chronicling a group of senior citizens living in a retirement community in central Florida. But after 18 months and hundreds of hours of footage, he began to see the outline of his first feature-length film, “Some Kind of Heaven,” which premieres this [...]

  • - New York, NY - 10/9/19

    #GoldOpen Launches Advisory Council, 'Golden Rider' to Promote Multicultural Films

    Diversity-focused nonprofit Gold House is launching an entertainment advisory council made up of industry leaders and a Golden Rider initiative to incentivize diverse representation in film, starting with the Asian diaspora. Both the council and rider are through the organization’s #GoldOpen venture, which supports the opening weekends of multicultural films.  The council — whose members [...]

  • Taylor Swift Variety Cover Story Sundance

    Taylor Swift: No Longer 'Polite at All Costs'

    “Not a shot. Not a single chance. Not a snowball’s chance in hell.” Taylor Swift — who, at 30, has reached a Zen state of cheerful realism — laughs as she leans into a pillow she’s placed over her crossed legs inside her suite at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, leaning further still into her infinitesimal odds of winning [...]

  • The Island

    ‘The Island,’ ‘Calamity,’ 'Piano Player' Highlight Cartoon Movie 2020 Lineup (EXCLUSIVE)

    BARCELONA – Rémi Chayé’s “Calamity, a Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary,” Anca Damian’s “The Island,” Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal’s “They Shot the Piano Player,” and Enrique Gato’s “Tad the Lost Explorer and the Curse of the Mummy” are among the sixty-six projects from twenty countries to be pitched at the 22nd Cartoon Movie, Europe’s [...]

  • Kirby Dick Amy Ziering

    'On The Record,' Russell Simmons #MeToo Doc, Charts Course to Sundance After Oprah Exit

    UPDATED: A spokesperson for Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering says the filmmaking team behind “Off the Record” will participate in print and broadcast interviews at the Sundance film festival. The accusers featured in the film are weighing press options at this time. Earlier, a spokesperson for the Russell Simmons documentary confirmed to Variety that only [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content