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Reviewed on 2009-08-07
Received[4]  out of 4 stars
The well-deserved winner in February of the 2008 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film has finally made it to Kansas City.

Cellist Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) is stunned by the news that the Tokyo-based orchestra is being dissolved. He is forced by this harsh reality to sell back the cello that put him in debt.

He and his beautiful wife, Mika (Ryoko Hirosue), move back to his old hometown of Yamagata. His mother died two years ago and left him her house. Daigo still has bitter feelings toward his father, who abandoned the family homestead 30 years ago.

Daigo notices a classified ad titled “Departures” and goes for an interview thinking that it involves being a tour guide for a travel agency. He finds out that this well-paying, unconventional job involves putting corpses in coffins.

His eccentric boss, Mr. Sasaki, is the middleman between the undertaker and the crematorium. There is a specific dignified ritual performed at the funeral ceremony by the professional casketeer. It is gracefully demonstrated several times in the movie.

Daigo is ashamed to tell his wife what he does. When she finally finds out, she asks him to quit because she finds the job to be impure and abnormal.

The movie leavens the serious side of dealing with death with several funny and awkward situations.

Daigo learns to appreciate life even more and treasure the love he has in his heart for his wife. He gets the urge to play his favorite instrument again and let the memories of the past rewind in his head.

The touching and heartfelt story takes you on a journey where unexpected surprises await along the way. This cinematic gem is so profoundly moving that it becomes a transcendental experience.

Motoki shows a wide range of emotions with his facial expressions. His eyes are truly windows to the soul and convey reverential awe and wonder. You can’t beat the soundtrack of soothing classical music from Beethoven, Bach and Brahms.

The movie speculates on people having a premonition of their ultimate demise and what comes next after this life on earth. Is death merely a gateway to something else?

This movie has a personal touch that never wears out its welcome during the 130-minute running time. Before winning the Oscar, the film won an unprecedented 10 Japanese Academy Awards including best film, best director, best cinematography, best screenplay, best editing, best lighting and best sound. It also won the audience award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

One of the best movies released this year, it will be included on my year-end top 10 list.

The dialogue is in Japanese with short, easy-to-read English subtitles. Opening exclusively for a limited engagement at the Tivoli in Westport.

Review By:
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"


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