Friday, January 8, 2010
I had the pleasure to be invited to a press screening of Okuribito, aka Departures, in Sweden retitled Avsked. It won the Academy Award for best foreign language movie 2009 and might be a strange movie to write about here on Ninja Dixon. But even if it don't have explosions, martial arts, nudity (well...) and and robots, it's still an excellent movie.
Masahiro Motoki plays Daigo Kobayashi, a Tokyo-based cellist who just bought a cello for 18 million yen! That's close to 200 000 dollars. So of course he's happy about his work that can help him pay the instrument. One day, after a show, the owner of the orchestra announces that he's gonna close down the orchestra and Daigo stands there without money and has to go home to his wife to tell her both about the expensive cello - and that he lost his job.
They decided to go back to his hometown where they have an old house they can live in. Daigo also needs a new job and finds something in the newspaper that he think is a travel agency. The owner, Ikuei Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki), likes him and gives him the job on the spot, and it's good salary too! Now Daigo realize that this is no travel agency, it's a funeral service. Their job is to prepare the bodies for the final resting place, clean it, make Buddhist-ceremonies, put make-up on, wrap it and so on. This job is taboo in Japan, and those working with is disliked, even that it's important and necessary. Daigo don't know so much about it, so he accepts and decided to hide it from his wife... It's just gonna be a short term job anyway, or...
I would say this movie is about death, grief and - most important - reconciliation. Though the subject is death, it's more about the living and the reactions around a death. Daigo also has a burden, his since long gone dad (who ran away with a younger woman) and how he stopped showing sorrow just to survive this ordeal. He escaped into the dream of being a cellist, but is that really what he wanted? For us westerners it can a bit of a surprise to understand the taboo and the traditions around death in Japan. I wasn't familiar myself with how controversial the handling of dead people is in Japan, that something so important can be despised by people. But also how this mission also is important to those who decides to work with it.
But now it sounds like this movie only is about sadness (but prepare to cry a lot too!), it's god damn funny - in that special Japanese way. The shock with Daigo has to learn the job is very funny, when he gets a surprise during one funeral and don't know how to react to that, and his first day where he is forced to be a model in a instruction video for how to prepare a dead body! The humor is subtle, but smart and warm.
There's nothing to complain about really, like many Japanese movies the craftmanship is excellent and so are the acting. But if you're used to Japanese acting you know that it can range from very naturalistic and low profile to overacting in just a few seconds. For me, that's a part of the charm and tradition of Japanese cinema (well, most of the Asian cinema has this kind of acting). But the actors are great, everyone do a perfect job. Veteran actor Tsutomu Yamazaki (Sweet Home, a couple of Miike-movies, Deathquake, Kagemusha and Village of Eight Gravestones) is so calm, so relaxed in his role, that it wouldn't surprise me if he worked preparing bodies in secret, and handsome Masahiro Motoki seems to play cello like a master. His wife, played by Ryoko Hirosue, is fantastic and so are all the supporting actors.
So before this is being remaked as a slapstick-comedy with Seth Rogen, watch it... and bring some napkins :)
It's a limited release, so here is the list of where you can see it in cinema with start 15th of January.
Stockholm - Bio Rio & Bio Sture
Malmö - Bio Spegeln
Lund - Bio Kino
Göteborg - Bio Roy
Karlstad - Bio Karlstad
Norrköping - Bio Cinema