Saturday, December 18, 2010

Movie Review of Departures (2009)

Review of the Movie Departures

Most people are unwilling to face the reality of impermanence and death. They forget that life is transitory. They quarrel with each other as though they are going to live forever. But, if they would face the fact of death, their quarrels would come to an end. --- The Buddha
This is a Japanese movie with English subtitles. It is a deeply moving and powerful story dealing with difficult topics, death and relationships between husbands and wives, parents and their children. Masahiro Motoki portrays the cellist Daigo Kobayashi whose dream of living as a professional musician are dashed. He moves his wife back to his northern village and inadvertently takes a job as a coffinman, one who ritualistically prepares the deceased for cremation. His experiences with the dead, the horrifying and the beautiful, open his eyes to the wonder and preciousness of life.
The images of salmon spawning, swans scrounging for grass, and the employees lustily devouring fish and chicken bring home the sanctity of life and the realities that all things that live, must die and that to live we must consume the lives of others. All we can do is live each day with gratitude and deep compassion for all.
Once he has forsaken his ambition to become a professional cellist with an expensive instrument, he is able to play his childhood cello with deep joy and connection to life and nature.

Like the untouchables in the time of the Buddha, Daigo is shunned, first by an old friend and then by his wife. He tells his wife, "We are all going to die." The movie gently leads us through the different ways people deal with grief, each family helped by Daigo’s respectful and tender process of preparing the body.

Daigo also has an anger towards his father who abandoned him as a child. By accepting life as it is and death as it is, by forgiving and living with compassion, Daigo and his wife learn to live a full, happy life. When he lets go of the anger, his vision clears and he is able to see his father clearly.
Throughout the movie characters keep referring to "fate" as having brought them to their circumstances. They could have just as easily said karma in most instances. More than once, Daigo's decision to keep secrets from his wife, violating "Right Speech" has negative consequences. But of course, the karma of their actions is never black or white. All experiences provide the opportunity for growth in wisdom and compassion.

Have a lot of tissue on hand when you watch this movie. The theatre was often completely silence except for the sound of sniffling. It will touch you profoundly.

This movie is based on the book Coffinman: A Journal of a Buddhist Mortician. Although most of the death preparations include some Buddhist rituals or items, Daigo’s religion is never mentioned in the movie. The Hongwanji (Head Jodo Shinshu Temple) in Japan was disappointed in the removal of much of the Buddhism. However, the movie gets across its messages beautifully. I plan to read the book and will then add any further comments.

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