Monday, June 8, 2009
As Subtle As a Japanese Dish – Departures
When you heard the rough story of this Departures (or Okuribito in Japanese), and when you knew that this is a Japanese film, you just knew what you gonna see. Subtle emotions, subtle story-telling skills, and even subtler acting, are the trademarks of this kind of movies. Actually this movie kept reminding me of a lunch I enjoyed in a traditional Japanese restaurant in Kyoto: A whole set, including dozens of small bowls and plates was spread in front of me, and each one of them only contained a small amount of food, so that I could just tasted with a bite, not be stuck up (like a Subway sandwich normally does).
The topic about how an unemployed man got a new start with a new career is nothing new to Hollywood. The job of “Noukanshi” (literally “People put the corpse into the coffin” in Japanese) probably sounds rather OK to western ppl (thanks to those cute and cool guys work in the morgue in CSI series…). But to Japanese and other East Asian cultures, it is often considered as a “humble” job that only certain class of ppl or ppl in extreme needs for money will likely to do. Bare this in your mind and you will enjoy more when you watch the struggling of the leading role Ogoku (Masahiro Motoki).
How subtle can Japanese be? Take a look at the scene that Ogoku tried to wash off the smell from the corpse he just handled before going home. Hair, hands, ear holes, nostrils, and he even drank some water and “sneeze” it out from the nose! Japanese really never mess up…
Another thing that Hollywood should definitely learn from this movie is, no matter how “friend” you are with those cameo stars in your movie, cut them out whenever they are not necessarily needed. Those ppl playing the family members in sorrow or even the “corpse” are not just nobody in Japan, esp Toru Minegishi (the last “corpse”, and the actor himself actually died of lung cancer during the showing period of this movie in Japan).
And as a plus, do enjoy the music by Joe Hisashi.
P.S. The Japanese title of the movie, Okuribito, means “people send others away”. It is somewhat related to the English title “Departures”. As a Buddhist point of view, death is just to leave this world to another (and hopefully better) one. So the funeral is also a ceremony for “departure”. But the original novel that this movie was based on is actually called “Diary of Noukanshi”, and throughout the film they used the word “Noukan” (the action that put the corpse into the coffin) to indicate this particular job, even the name of the company “NK Agency” came from the initials of Nou-Kan.