Japan's entry, and indeed the winner of the 2009 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, Yojiro Takita's Departures arrives in the UK without much fanfare, perhaps because its subject matter hardly sounds promising on paper.
When decent but un-inspired cellist Daigo (Masahiro Motoki) finds himself redundant after his orchestra is disbanded, he heads Tokyo with his girlfriend Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) to beat a retreat to the humble spa-town where he grew up. There, he finds work as the assistant to Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki), whose small business performs the unsavoury task of preparing the bodies of the dead for funeral rituals.
With little trace of his unsavoury background as a porn director in the 1980’s, Takita’s stern and sombre compositions and skilful use of a lush and evocative score by Joe Hisaishi are only part of Departures’ life-affirming charm. A sly, mordant humour is continually evident, from an ingenious opening scene involving a beautiful corpse with a secret, to the ingenious use of stones and sea-life to reveal the inner life of the tightly wrapped characters. Yes, the subject might sound grimly off-putting, but Departures has a spiky wit, warmth and empathetic bent that Bill Forsyth would be proud of.
GFT, Glasgow from Fri 18-Wed 23 Dec.