Monday, March 30, 2009

Jmovie review: Okuribito/Departures

Been wanting to watch this movie not because it won the oscar for best foreign movie but because I really want to see Hirosue Ryoko in something good. Her last too jdoramas have been disasters and the last thing decent show I can remember her in was Little DJ though her role as very minor. Its great for Japanese cinema to get some recognition besides the usual Kurosawa and Ghibli accolades.

Okuribito is a movie about cellist Daigo (Masahiro Motoki) who loses his job in the orchestra and moves back to his deceased mother's house in the country with his wife Mika (Hirosue Ryoko). He stumbles upon a job add to send people off on their journeys. Thinking it was an ad for a travel agency, he takes his first step into becoming an encoffiner, a person who specialises in preparing a body for the coffin.

You mean Yasuko to Kenji was just a bad dream?

There was a jdorama last season, Shigeshoshi that dealt with embalming but it was so bad I could only watch a few episodes and just couldn't be bothered reviewing it. Encoffining is more than just dressing up a body to make it look good before it is placed in a coffin. It is a ritual for family and loved ones to say their final farewells.

A smile that would melt the iciest heart...

Okuribito deals with many interesting issues such as societies reluctance to deal with death. Everyone around Daigo views his profession with contempt. Not just his friends but his wife Mika as well. They view it as a dirty job because they view death as something that unnatural or not part of everyday life. It is something that people choose to ignore and only deal with when the time comes. People who make their living from the deaths of others are for some reason viewed with contempt as opposed to doctors who make their living from the physical ailments of others.

The other underlying issue is about relationships between parents, their children and death. I won't say much in order not to spoil the movie but I really love it when a movie structures its themes well and and delves into them throughout the movie. That said, I thought the scene at the back of the 'incinerator' was unnecessary and the speech about gatekeeping was hitting the nail too hard as it doesn't fit in with the subtlety of the rest of the movie.

Masahiro Motoki does an excellent job as Daigo. You'd believe that he could actually work as an encoffiner after watching Okuribito. He's cello playing looks solid too. He does a great job at playing Daigo as someone who always internalises his emotions until they spill out uncontrollably. Hirosue Ryoko shows that she's still a good actress when given decent roles. There's a couple of scenes where its all about subtlety and my favourite is when she finally sees Daigo working working as an encoffiner. The silent conversation between their eyes is all that is needed.

The movie slows down a bit because we have to see Daigo do his encoffining a few times but each is necessary for the climax of multiple storylines/themes of the movie. I wish Daigo's boss Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki) had more to do. The first encoffining scene was hilarious. I enjoyed Sasaki's talk with Daigo about the importance of his job because he does it in a roundabout way without spelling it out in bright neon lights.

Do not approach this movie with high expectations. It will not blow you away but it will move you and give you stuff to think about. Its a good movie but not among the best that I have seen. I just hope that no one decides to make a jdorama based on the movie!


sparqi said...

good recommendation!

Anonymous said...

Don't know what all the fuss is about - it's an interesting movie and well made, but by no means great. I suspect it's the novelty thing, just like 'CTHD' few years back (and the Chinese in China/Taiwan/HK were quite underwhelmed then).

The plot is predictably manipulative (albeit in a subtle manner) but of course films of this nature are always about the people and their emotional growth. I thought Hirosue's performance was just ok and even quite irritating (albeit not her fault but the script's). BTW if you're not accustomed to sitting within 3 ft. of a live cello performance, well I can tell you your jaw will get very numb.

For my money, I prefer 'Youghisa X no Kenshin' (the movie version of 'Galileo'), even though the story/pacing would have been handled much better in the hands of a more capable director.

mangifera said...

give Winter Jdo's "Voice" a try. Jdo on forensic medicine, not a blown away dorama but pretty decent. just finished with the softsubbed.

i will give this movie a try!

Akiramike said...

Agree that its no Twilight Samurai but I watched the movie without high expectations. I hated CTHD when it came out because of the hype. Watched it years later and enjoyed it for what it was, a well made wuxia movie that didn't try to reinvent the wheel.