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When his orchestra disbands, Daigo Kobayashi moves back to his hometown and takes a job preparing corpses for burial. Too embarrassed to admit his new career to his family, Daigo keeps his profession a secret, until he’s faced with the death of someone close to him. Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Film.
Departures is surely the gentlest, sweetest movie about death that you will ever see. A cellist named Diago Masahiro Motoki comes to the rueful conclusion that he’s not talented enough to make a career as a musician; having just returned to his hometown with his wife Mika Ryoko Hirosue, Wasabi, he answers a job ad for what he thinks must be a travel agency... only to discover that company prepares bodies to be placed in coffins. Fearful of his wife’s response, he hides his new job--but as he grows to appreciate his boss Tsutomu Yamazaki, Tampopo and the affect that the humbling ceremony of cleaning and dressing the deceased has on their families, Diago discovers that he might have a calling. Departures won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and it’s easy to understand why. Though it starts out quietly and even seems slight, it gradually builds in emotional power, layer by layer, until scene after scene at the end is richly moving. Particularly affecting is the performance of Kimiko Yo, the secretary of the company, who harbors a troubling secret. A few moments of overt symbolism push the movie from compassion to sentimentality--but every time Departures seems to have lost its footing, a scene follows that strikes all the right notes so deftly it resonates like a bell. A truly marvelous movie. --Bret Fetzer