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The gift of last memories. 

Year: 2008 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC 12A Cert – Under 12s admitted only with an adult 
Subtitles: It is expected that this film is fully subtitled. 
Directed by Yōjirō Takita 
Starring: Masahiro Motoki, Ryoko Hirosue, Tsutomu Yamazaki  
An image from Departures

Some departures deserve a proper send off, especially ones when the subject leaves for somewhere very far away and is unlikely to return soon.

After the dissolution of an orchestra in Tokyo, cellist Daigo Kobayashi (Motoki) heads back to his hometown in rural Japan with his wife Mika (Hirosue) in search of a new life. Daigo applies for a job that is advertised as "assisting departures", but finds himself employed by the head of the funeral agency, Mr. Sasaki (Yamazaki), as an "encoffineer", a person in charge of preparing the deceased body during the ritual. Can Daigo overcome the taboo of death and succeed in seeking Mika's understanding?

In the cultures of East Asia, funerals are considered send-offs to the underworld but people working in funeral industries are generally undervalued despite their importance. The film is loosely based on the autobiographic work of Shinmon Aoki, Diary of an Encoffineer. There is therefore great attention paid to the details of the profession, with some surprisingly funny moments, providing foreign audiences with an astounding cultural journey.

The music from Joe Hisaishi, regular composer for Miyazaki’s animation including Spirited Away, and the acting from the lead Motoki inject softness and emotions into Daigo's career and underpin his changing view of life, death, grief and loss.

The film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009, beating strong opponents including Waltz with Bashir. This is not surprising due to the fact that the film deals directly with the sensitive subject of death in Japanese culture but still manages to bring out important messages which provide a surprisingly sentimental and profound watch. Highly recommend to anyone interested in foreign cultures and great drama. Simply brilliant.

Jeffrey Choi

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Screenings of this film:

2009/2010 Summer Term (35mm)