Monday, August 17, 2009

EXPLOSIVE ENCOUNTER: Movie Review: "The Departures"

Postmodern Parasitism in a Decaying Society

By Earvin Charles B. Cabalquinto

“The living eats the dead. Unless you want to die, don’t eat.”

-Sasaki, company owner of NK Agent.

RANK: 5 STARS! ( 5 the highest)

Yesterday, I got the chance to watch a movie titled “Departures” by Yojiro Takita. It’s a Japanese film which won Best Foreign Language Film at the 2009 Oscar Awards. The fact that it won in the prestigious Oscars and a lot of other local and international accolades totally piqued my interest to watch it. Now, here’s my review.

“Departures” chronicles the life of a cello player Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki), who after the premiere symphony orchestra in Tokyo where he works gets dissolved, leads him moving back to his mother’s abandoned house in Yamagata with her wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) and in order to survive eventually lands him in an very different job under Sasaki’s (Tsutomo Yamazaki) company – doing a ceremonial “encoffination” of corpses prior to cremation.

“Departures” symbolically and perfectly articulates the current economic global condition transforming the face and perspectives of the human race. It does not only depicts the raw emotions of the characters’ relations and struggles to oneself, to his family and in the society he lives in, but it also breaks the constructs of the judgmental society in defining a “decent job” through showing the dignity in living out of someone’s death, yet, it also affirms the helplessness of humans in hard times. On one hand, while the concept of death becomes the overarching umbrella to elicit the emotions seeped, the film mirrors how the “living” is surviving like dead bodies in a decaying society.

Looking in the current global condition, Japan, for its technology-dependent and booming industries, has been hit by the recession intensely. As a result, not only its political and economic grounds have been cajoled, more importantly, its civil society and the preservation of culture and traditions have also been affected. And with the invincible hands of recession raging its fiery impacts on business and trade, the people suffer the most. End up, not only unemployment surfaces, but underemployment happens too. Truth be told, this could be one angle which can be read on the films narrative; it’s the mismatch of one’s skill, the coffining of dreams, the paralysis of culture, and the stagnation of traditions which undermine the growth of a civil society.

The dramatic music captivates me as I take my journey on this film. However, beyond the rousing melodies which lullaby the viewers paired with the cinematic appeal showcased by a powerhouse serious to witty acting, detailed camera framing, and poignant narration, the film subconsciously posits an alarming long held reality: the existence of postmodern Necrophilia, or the sexual attraction to the dead, and the worsening parasitic cannibalism. To be exact, how Daigo deals with his vomiting vividly paints a milieu of helplessness on intense skills corruption.

Daigo’s case flawlessly draws the notion of necrophilia and parasitic cannibalism. First, we see the “coffining” of his passion on playing the music. And soon, we see him bring himself forward on his apprehensive quest on ceremonial “encoffination.” Oddly, although we never “literally” see a smile on Daigo’s face whenever he performs such ceremony, we can feel that he has accepted the job not only as an act, but as a decent source of income. That gives him a different kind of pleasure, to survive, at least. And that reinforces the ideology of making a living through the dead. Relatively, if we are to read this construction in a deeper ground, we can understand that this is a metaphorical representation of how we currently live in our society. In a postmodern world where globalization creates a global village of faceless identities, a nation progress while industrialization bashes culture and traditions, and turbo capitalism which shallows outlook, we are left with a dead or anonymous society concealed with glamour. Additionally, in a Marxist perspective, the film reinforces the language of ideologies in these rough times. Although there is nothing wrong with such job, what more depressing is the underemployment happening in order to survive in a touted industrial society. True enough, there is carnal pleasure in earning one’s survival and progress.

And as the film brings us the emotional encounters and heart-stopping conversations of Daigo with his mourning “clients,” we also see the withering of Daigo’s identity which may symbolically represent a nation. While Daigo’s dream of being a successful musician is being buried simultaneous with every burial ceremony he facilitates, he also has to know his past to understand his present; the search and longing for a father who gave him his dream and suddenly left him and his mother when he was six. Similarly, with the boom of intense consumerism which sets out culture and history in ushering economic competence, a nation suffers in positioning its authentic identity. The location of oneself becomes unclear especially in the emergence of conflict coming at some economic, political or social platforms.

The film ends with a gripping closure on Daigo’s life. After 30 years, finally Daigo meets his father. Oddly enough, he does the encoffination for his father’s lifeless body. With his wife beside him, he discovers the “stone letter” being held by his father on its hands. And as Daigo picks up the stone letter and passes it to his wife, the film justifies that death is not the end, it is only the beginning. True enough, as Daigo finds his “new” identity as a person, a son, a husband, and a soon-to-be father, he will remain a part of the cyclical journey of social parasitism and cultural decay in order to survive in a capital state.


  1. i was looking for the title of this movie for so long.. just seen it from the cable here in macau but it was in chinese language... good thing i bloghopped here... thanks for posting! :) nice blog entry

  2. Hi Roanne! No problem! Thanks for the comment!