“Departures”: a Japanese film

Departures” (Okuribito — The Sending-Off-Person) is an award winning 2008 Japanese film about a young Cello player who loses his orchestra job and out of financial necessity returns with his wife to his rural home town where he accidentally finds a job for a funeral company.  The story involves learning deep love, forgiveness, the healing of childhood loss and cultivating artful En in one’s profession.

Seeing this last film night, it is now one of my top favorite movies. How can I help but not recommend a film that made me tear up several times?  However, I am not sure if it was the film or my personal experiences in Japan (and life) that made this film so powerful for me.  I am sure the following helped me appreciate this film:

  • Speaking Japanese and long, rich experiences with the complexity of Japanese relationships
  • Having been an acupuncture apprentice with wonderful, enigmatic teachers much like the teacher in this film
  • Wrestling with Japanese spirituality and cultural values about death.  It will help you to read about Japanese funerals before seeing this film.
  • Understanding rural vs. urban Japan
  • Lots of wonderful experiences at Japanese public baths (sentō)

But I think perhaps anyone can enjoy it.  So if you see it, please let me know if it struck a chord with you.  Meanwhile, here are some more links:

  • To see one of my related Japanese experiences, read my story of possession by a dead Japanese woman — my first Japanese funeral.
  • For a similar theme, see the excellent 1999 Chinese comedy-drama, “Shower” (Xǐzǎo=”to bathe”).  A man returns to his family public bathhouse and begins to understand himself and family.
  • For a very different, funny film which pokes fun at Japanese funerals, see Ososhiki (The Funeral, 1984).


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

5 responses to ““Departures”: a Japanese film

  1. This sounds quite interesting. I’ll have to check it out if I cross paths with it. (This weekend I am going to be watching the John Rabe flick you recommended.)

    I dig the En. I hadn’t seen that post before.

    I’m still not really sure what to make of your possession story after reading it a second time. The mind can do a lot of funny things when exposed to new stimuli, but that doesn’t explain the slippers…

    Your mention of the bath houses reminds me of a Japanese or Korean movie about a bath house being passed down to the next generation with the “departure” of the father. It was quite a delightful film, but I can’t seem to remember what it was called.

  2. @ TWF,
    Glad you enjoyed the Yuan (En) post. Hope you enjoy the John Rabe film.
    The movie you mentioned is Shower, it is a Chinese film. I added it to the end of this post. I loved that movie — it is very similar. Thank you for reminding me.

  3. Yeah! That’s it! “Shower” It was a great film. My wife got a kick out of it too. I’m glad you figured it out, and glad you’ve seen it.

  4. CRL

    Your possession story is quite fascinating. Since the comment thread there appears to have died down, I’ll post my opinion here: you did speak Japanese, after a fashion. You probably had enough “orphaned” meaningless Japanese phrases floating around your head to babble on incoherently, while sounding fluent to another foreigner. Certainly, there’s quite a bit of stray Chinese phrases that float around in my head, unattached to any English translation, picked up from overheard conversations and friends’ forgotten lessons which I’m sure I could produce, given the appropriate stimulus. Thus, speaking in tongues, no demon required.

    Anyway. Sounds like an interesting movie.

  5. @ CRL,
    I think your theory about my possession is spot on! Good analysis. The odd thing, though, is why was I having a dream I could not escape as I spoke? I must admit, I have had such dreams a few times, but even when having it, I felt possessed. Since I have had these sort of confusing half-awake, half-asleep experiences several times, maybe this one was just a coincidence in its timing — one I remember well.
    Again, great dissection — I agree.

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