Now I’ve finally seen Departures (おくりびと), the film which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2009, after I had been meaning to see it for quite some time.
It’s really something as a film. My initial reaction upon seeing the credits come up was to think that there hadn’t been enough plot; that not enough had happened for the movie to be over already. But, I thought about it for a moment, and decided, it isn’t really about the plot at all; it’s about the emotion, and the film as a whole, as a work, and about its ability to move you, and to change you, if only temporarily. This is what makes it a wonderful work of cinema.
I find it quite interesting, now that I have seen it in its entirety, thinking about the overall plot structure, or arc, of the film, realizing how much is implied, and how much more powerful and artistic that makes the film.
SPOILERS AHEAD! Highlight to read.
Certain elements of the plot are purely stereotypical and expected. Mika comes back; she’s pregnant, so of course they get back together. But of course she still wants him to find a different job. She sees him work, and gains an appreciation for the kind of work he does, and its importance and the beauty of what he does for others, and so they stick together and he keeps his job.
The fact that they don’t really discuss any of this onscreen, neither the splitting up nor the getting back together, and that her gaining appreciation for his job and being okay with him keeping that job is 100% unspoken, 100% seen on her face, is really the key thing here that I think elevates this from a “movie,” that is, a piece of entertainment, to a “film,” that is, a work of art akin to a great work of literature.
The film does not rely on surprises or twists the way another film might – his discovering the death of his father; his discovering the stone in his father’s hand. In a lesser film, these would be the key moments of the story. But here, they blend in seamlessly with the overall dramatic, emotional, atmosphere and feeling of the film. Or at least, that’s my experience of it.
I was surprised that Mika did not take over the bathhouse, since it seemed so expected, what with her offering to help, and being refused, and asking the mama-san if she worked all alone… and what with all that talk about how the place needed to be kept up or else what would the people of the town do. .. I guess I should not be too surprised that plot lines like these wouldn’t be neatly nicely tied up. This isn’t an American movie, after all.
In any case, I am very glad to have seen the film. It was a very good cry; the kind of sadness, and happiness, that connects us to one another as people, as human beings, as fellow members of a community and of society more broadly.
I thought of my mom. I saw her for a few days a week before she died. Then I saw her again extremely briefly the day before. I never saw her after that. We don’t do open caskets. And perhaps, it’s better this way. Though it certainly didn’t stop me from crying my guts out seeing a closed box and just imagining her inside it – I didn’t have to see anything for it to be upsetting. And, of course, our customs are much different from those in the film in many other ways. But, nevertheless, we can identify and connect and relate, and it is terribly emotional and moving and powerful, in a good way.
And though the stones in the film may have a very different meaning, I shall think of this, perhaps, the next time I lay a stone (we don’t do flowers in Judaism) on my mother’s tombstone.
I had hesitated for a long time, thinking why should I want to see a film that I know is going to be upsetting and sad. It’s certainly not something I would want to relax with, alone, as a means of relaxing after a long day of studying, which is why it took me so long to see it – thanks for dorm movie night, making an event out of it. I am very glad to have finally seen it. If you’re on the fence about whether you want to add this film to your Netflix queue, or you’ve been putting off seeing it, for what it’s worth, I recommend it. You won’t be disappointed.