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Time Out says

When the struggling symphony orchestra in which he plays the cello finally disbands, debt-ridden Daigo (Masahiro Motoki) returns to the small rural community where his late mother ran a café and begins looking for work. Answering a newspaper ad for what he thinks is a travel company (hence ‘Departures’), he stumbles into an unlikely new job… helping prepare the dead for funeral rites. His attitude to this is pretty much like our own and everyone else’s – a certain discomfort – leaving him unsure how to break the news to his missus (Ryoko Hirosue). His sagacious boss (Tsutomu Yamazaki), however, soon helps him to realise that his unfairly maligned job can bring comfort to the living and the dead.

It’s no surprise to learn that Daigo has his own unresolved emotional issues (ye olde absent-father scenario), but then again, director Yojiro Takita clearly has a deep-rooted fear of wrong-footing the audience, hence his determination to foreshadow every story development to the point of over-obviousness. Somewhat depressing to think that this won him the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, since this would-be touching drama mainly illustrates how thudding literalism beats any subtlety out of highly promising material. The movie gestures towards deep emotions, but an abiding soft-grained superficiality effectively insulates us from the piercing realities of grief. That said, Yamazaki is wonderful as the éminence grise of corpse preparation – until Joe Hisaishi’s appalling score smothers everything in a string-heavy sludge. Disappointing.
Written by Trevor Johnston

Release Details

  • Rated:12A
  • Release date:Friday 4 December 2009
  • Duration:130 mins

Cast and crew

  • Director:Yojiro Takita
  • Cast:
    • Masahiro Motoki
    • Kundo Koyama
    • Tsutomu Yamazaki
    • Ryoko Takizawa
    • Kazuko Yoshiyuki
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