From BOB MONDELLO
Departures explores distinctly Japanese questions about class and culture, but it’s entertaining enough to appeal to a global audience. [Recommended by Darca Nicholson, we recently rented from Netflix and loved this little gem. -DS]
If there was one real surprise at this year’s Academy Awards, it was the winner for Best Foreign Language Film. The front-runner was widely thought to be the Israeli war movie Waltz with Bashir — but the Oscar went to Departures, a Japanese film that hadn’t yet opened in the U.S.
The brainchild of its leading actor, onetime boy-band member Masahiro Motoki, Departures turns out to be a delightful surprise, at once an engaging dramedy and an eloquent social statement about … well, I’m getting ahead of myself.
When a Tokyo orchestra goes bankrupt, its cellist, a young sad sack named Daigo (Motoki) finds himself unable to support the big-city lifestyle to which he and his wife are just becoming accustomed. So they move to his rural hometown, where he starts a job search.
There’s no orchestra to work for, but an ad offering a career “working with departures” sounds promising; the travel industry intrigues him. So he arranges an interview and, to his surprise, is hired almost before he sits down. At a high salary, too.
There is, however, a catch: The word “departures” in the ad was a misprint. The job involves working with the departed — the dearly departed. As in, Daigo will be preparing bodies for cremation.
He’s about to flee the interview when the boss offers him his first day’s salary and suggests he try the job for a bit and see.