×
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.

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.

Popular on Variety

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

  • Box Office Mojo new

    Box Office Mojo Site Transformed by IMDbPro

    BoxOfficeMojo.com has been transformed into an IMDbPro site, losing some of its free features. The Amazon-owned site, which had previously operated free of charge, was given a new look with its header reading “Box Office Mojo by IMDb Pro.” Information such as breakdowns by genre is now only available behind the IMDbPro paywall. The Box [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'Hocus Pocus' Sequel in Development at Disney Plus

    Disney Plus has launched development of a sequel to 1993’s fantasy comedy “Hocus Pocus” with “Workaholics” writer and co-producer Jen D’Angelo on board to script. The original “Hocus Pocus” starred Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy as a trio of witch sisters who have been cursed since 1693 in Salem, Ma. The witches [...]

  • Lady Gaga

    Variety Wins 2019 Eppy Award for Best Digital Magazine

    Variety has won two Eppy Awards from Editor & Publisher, including Best Digital Magazine and Best Collaborative Investigative/Enterprise Feature for “American (In)Justice” — a collaboration with fellow PMC property Rolling Stone. “American (In)Justice” also tied with USA Today’s “Copy, Paste, Legislate” collaboration with The Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity. Variety has provided [...]

  • Joker Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

    Box Office: Villains Face Off Again as 'Joker' and 'Maleficent' Battle for First Place

    Despite three new nationwide releases, domestic box office charts look to be dominated by holdovers — Warner Bros.’ “Joker” and Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” — during the last weekend in October. “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” debuted last weekend with $36 million in North America, enough to dethrone “Joker” after the super-villain origin story’s back-to-back [...]

  • Yasushi Shiina

    Tokyo Market is Finding New Strengths, Says Yasushi Shiina

    Clouds on the global economic horizon and disruption to the scheduling of the event, have done little to dampen the interest of foreign visitors to TIFFCOM, Japan’s biggest film and TV market. Especially those from China, says market head, Yasushi Shiina. The market is again running at the Sunshine City shopping, entertainment and business complex [...]

  • "Weathering With You" directed by Makoto

    Toho Unveils Dual Media Romance 'Love Me, Love Me Not' at Tokyo Market

    Japan’s biggest film company, which produces, distributes and exhibits its own product in partnership with leading media companies, Toho has brought a line-up to TIFFCOM full of present and future hits. The biggest is “Weathering with You,” the love story animation by Makoto Shinkai that surpassed the $100 million mark only a month after its [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content