THE DANCE OF DEATH: A Review of Departures


Departures, a movie about a man who loses his job, is that movie that got a bad rap before it was even released because it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film when other films like Gomorrah didn’t even get nominated. The nomination, and win, seemed to come as a surprise to everyone except, obviously, the branch of the Academy that voted for it. It also got a bad rap because it was released after the release of Tokyo Story, also a film about a man who loses his job. This latter bad rap was a bit more justified because Tokyo Story, perhaps the best film of the year, is a better movie than Departures, but Departures is still a haunting, often beautiful film about living in the midst of dying. In Departures, a cello player, played with appropriate moroseness by Masahiro Motoki, loses his job with a symphony and returns home where he drifts into a job preparing bodies for burial, under the watchful eye of the not to be said no to Tsutomu Yamazaki (an excellent performance). It’s a terrifyingly lovely ritual, carefully and lovingly explained by the characters. Our hero learns to undress, dress, wash, etc. a body with the grace of Fred Astaire dancing. One might not think that playing a musical instrument would prepare one for the funeral business, but here the cross over skills are obvious. The screenplay, by Kundo Koyama, is strong with vibrant characters and engaging plot. It only falters toward the end when the story becomes a bit too formulaic in a twist that could be seen coming an hour earlier.
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