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. Having spent a small fortune on a new cello, Daigo and his wife Mika cannot get by with what savings are left, prompting Daigo to give up on music, sell his cello, and move back to his hometown in Yamagata prefecture, in northern Japan. He settles in his late mother's house with Mika, and applies for what looks to be a travel agency job in "departures."
Offered an immediate start and a fantastic wage simply for turning up, Daigo presses business owner Sasaki and learns that the ad was a misprint: the job is with "departures" in the sense of "the recently departed". Hardly enthused about being a type of mortician, Daigo reluctantly becomes an assistant, an especially undesirable job due to the lingering association of such work with the Untouchable or Burakumin caste in Edo-era/pre-1868 Japan. 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.
Of course, Daigo soon has to deal with hiding his job from his wife, along with getting used to some gruesome and especially trying work.
Not to be confused with the travel series of the same name.
Contains examples of:
- Ambiguous Ending: Only two of the threads are fully tied up: Daigo and Mika stay together despite his job, and Daigo finally has closure with his father. Secondary threads such as the receptionist commenting on the Boss getting too old for the job, or whether the bath house will still be shut down (or who would run it if it isn't), are just left hanging.
- 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.
- Chekhov's Gun: The coffins in NK Agent as, for his hard work, the Boss gives Daigo the expensive one for his own father.
- 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...
- Hard-Work Montage: For the Time Skip after Mika moves out, which shows Daigo performing multiple encoffinments inter-cut with shots of him playing the cello music accompanying it.
- 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.
- Hidden Depths: Occurs twice:
- At the end of the second act, Daigo follows a body to the crematorium, only to learn that the old man from the bath house is actually the resident cremator.
- During the conclusion, Daigo receives a confession from the NK Agent receptionist, who admits she too left her son behind. She presses Daigo to visit his father and get closure, as she can't visit her own son because she is too ashamed.
- 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.
- Truth in Television: The taboo of working with the dead, particularly in Japan, is still somewhat frowned upon today. In the past, the lowest of all the castes, the Untouchables, were given the 'spiritually contaminated' jobs that destroyed their moral character and made them and all their children irreparably evil; it was believed that seeing or being in the presence of an Untouchable could lead you down the path of vice.ex. De facto enclaves/districts of Burakumin continued to exist well into the 1970s despite the abolition of the caste system in the 1860s, so it's unsurprising people are still uncomfortable with it.
- Undertaker: A notably spiritual version whose duties include precise religious rituals for the recently deceased.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: The deceased pretty girl in the opening scenes and the receiver of a red dress in the trailers is actually a boy.