Film: Departures

"Death is for the living and not for the dead so much."
Roger Ebert, quoting Gates of Heaven in his review of Departures.

Departures is a Japanese film directed by Takita Yojiro and scored by Joe Hisaishi, which won the Oscar for best foreign film in 2009.

Kobayashi Daigo is a cello player in a classical orchestra in Tokyo, but when his cash-strapped ensemble is disbanded, he finds himself without a job. He decides to give up on music and move with his wife back to his hometown in Yamagata prefecture, in northern Japan.

He settles in his late mother's house, and applies for a job in what appears to be a travel agency. In fact, the job offer had been deliberately advertised in a misleading way: the business is actually that of a mortician, who couldn't find an assistant due to the lingering association of such work with the Untouchable or Burakumin caste in Edo-era/pre-1868 Japannote . Daigo, at first reluctant, warms to the job, as he discovers it implies a deep form of respect and care for the deceased. In a heavily ritualized ceremony, his boss and he prepare the bodies for encoffinment, before the eyes of the relatives.

Not to be confused with the travel series of the same name.

Contains examples of:

  • Bad Ass Grandma: The old lady who runs the public baths single-handedly until she collapses.
  • Benevolent Boss: Daigo's boss is the stuff of employment dreams. For instance, when Daigo's first job in the field turns out to dealing an severely decayed body, his boss gives him a cash bonus and the rest of the day off noting that he would never have given a rookie a job that tough on the first day if he could have helped it.
  • Driven to Suicide: The Wholesome Crossdresser, though we only hear this from the Seen It All president.
  • The Faceless / The Blank: Daigo's dad in his memories until the end.
  • The Film of the Book: The movie is apparently based on the book Coffin Man, which includes a similarly harrowing first day for the protagonist, who becomes an encoffiner almost by accident after losing his job.
  • The Fun in Funeral: The lead character finds himself in all sorts of funerals from the quiet and charming to the loud and raucous.
  • Furo Scene: Daigo finds out the public baths he used to patronize as a child are still open, and becomes a regular once again. And man does he scrub himself after his first day...
  • Heroic BSOD: After his first day Daigo is in shock, and can't stand the sight of a chicken his wife is preparing (it really didn't help that she mentioned they could eat it as "sashimi" i.e. raw). He ends up needing something "living" to anchor himself, and practically ravishes her in the kitchen.
    • When Daigo's wife finds out that he's not, in fact, working at a travel agency but handling corpses she flips out ("Unclean!!"note ) and leaves. She gets better and returns after finding out she's pregnant.
  • Humiliation Conga: Daigo "volunteers" to play the corpse in an instructional video, which includes having to be painted white and wear a diaper. On top of all that his wife, who doesn't know the truth, finds the video, flips out and leaves.
  • Meaningful Funeral: Several of them in the course of the story, especially the last one, that of Daigo's father.
  • Mood Whiplash: At the beginning of the film, the scene and Daigo's voiceover paints what appears to be a very solemn and serious film. Then, as Daigo is washing the body of a recently deceased "girl", we are treated to a shocked face and confused groping as he discovers that the girl was actually a cross-dressing boy.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: Sort of: The "message stone" that Daigo and his father exchanged and that Daigo's father still had, decades later.
  • Parental Abandonment: Daigo keeps an enduring grudge against his father for going away all those years ago.
    • Daigo's office mate is herself a Missing Mom and deeply regrets it. She says (and it's implied that Daigo's dad could have been the same way) that she can't return due to being from a small town where she would be viciously persecuted.
  • Tokyo Is the Center of the Universe: Averted. The characters leave Tokyo early on, and most of the film takes place in small-town Japan - Yamagata prefecture, to be precise.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: A particularly devious example, since it had to have been on purpose with an American audience in mind - Tomeo is clearly wearing a boy's uniform in that black-ribboned photo.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: The deceased pretty girl in the opening scenes and the receiver of a red dress in the trailers is actually a boy.