Thursday 28 April 2011

The last farewell - Meanderings on the Japanese film "Departures"

Staying at home, I am quite privileged to watch many wonderful movies of different cultures in World Movies channel. Two days ago, as I was accidentally changing channels, my hand paused when I saw a very solemn scene on World Movies. It was a scene from a Japanese film titled Departures. I must say that I enjoy watching movies from China, Japan and Korea. They are slow, calming and the music is something that long remains after the film is over. The films are always subtle and gentle. Well, that is for another post. Now coming back to Departures.

The protagonist is a cellist and after losing his job becomes a professional in assisting departures (death). The customs and rituals associated with death in the Japanese culture were so very solemn and graceful that death did not seem morbid at all. The protagonist's work was to clean, dress and make the body presentable. He does his work very well and as he goes about the process, he learns to love his job.

Death in various cultures has never ceased to interest me. This was the first time I was seeing the Japanese rituals of the dead. The respect given to the lifeless body is something quite touching. Perhaps the belief that death is not an end but only a passage to another life is demonstrated through the solemn rituals and ceremonies. 

I don't know whether there really exist professionals who assist death in Japan. But if there are, I would like to talk to them and ask many questions.

What are your thoughts on movies of different cultures and professionals in assisting departures?

Are there any special rituals for death in your part of the world?

Image: Internet


  1. Yes Susan,I enjoy learning about different cultures,watching movies,and one such movie I loved was "memoirs of a geisha"..of course the book is far better. As far as death rituals are concerned,I don't know must be knowing how strict Hindus are about these thins..but we three sisters broke every such norm when my Papa passed away in 2008,we went to the ghats and did the last rites,shocking many..and every pooja after that was my father's wish,and my Mom wanted it like this.

  2. May i recommend Old boy or sympahy for lady vengance, truly awmazing films.

  3. really quite intriguing...other than fried chicken afterward...not really...

  4. oh, there are several japanese films that i have loved and now that i am trying to think of their titles i am lost - my memory is a terrible thing to lose! but there is something - something a bit undefinable with japanese culture/films that i love - that draws me to them -

    always such thought-provoking posts here, dear susan! and this film sounds really intriguing - i'll have to check it out - perhaps amazon has it -

    i wish our cable company offered more of the foreign films - so great that you've access to such -

    wishing you a beautiful day -

  5. Wow...sounds like a really touching film. I love watching movies from other countries and have gotten used to the subtitles...that took me awhile!

  6. Thanks for piquing an interest in this type of film Susan. We do watch a lot of World Movies, subtitles no longer bother us, but the Japanese genre I'll be looking out for after this.

  7. I think the first Japanese movie I saw was when I was in school.
    Don't remember the name but it was about 3 small kids on their own (probably ran away from home) and their advnture in the city. Enjoyed it.
    I understand that Sanjeev Kumar's Hinid movie "Koshish" was originally a Japanese movie. If so then I think Gulzar did a good job in remaking it in Hindi.
    As far as Death is considered, I think only we (Indians) make a big melodrama out of it.
    When my grandfather died, the Radio (the only entertainment in those days) was banned for a week.
    The week after that it was put on only to listen to the AIR 9 pm english news.

  8. In this part of the world, we bury them and cry them and have funerals... and recently we cremate them. My brother was cremated and I must admit I did not like it...I know after one is dead, nothing is going to change the fact the the corpse is going to vanish...yet, there is this tendency to believe that as long as we see the body somehow the person still IS there. But they are gone, and as they do there is a clear movement of the body that the soul has left it behind... sorry I am thinking too much about my dear brother and seeing him for days in a coma and how he opened his eyes as to say: this is it...
    Rituals we have. Yes, still we do not accept death as an essential part of life. I wish they had taught me better or differently about that...

  9. I saw this movie and I was intriqued by it too. It is interesting to consider the many ways of saying good bye to a loved one.

    I'm back to reading your posts and am so glad. I've missed your thoughts and look forward to resuming my own blogging. Take care Susan.

  10. In my part of the world, the dead are never left to rest because of all the drama that accompanies their departure, unfortunately. The crying and wailing is ceaseless, and it seems the more one cries the more attention is received. I often wonder if that is the purpose.

    I don't know if you know but one of my focuses is working with the dying. I also do grief and bereavement work, in general. Death is not the morbid thing society has come to make it out to be. It is, indeed, a peaceful passing into another dimension. I think we should allow the dying to go where they please, and wish them the best in their new place of being.

    A fascinating topic, this!

    Wishing you a lovely weekend, Susan.


  11. Hello SAusan:

    I agree that the Japanese & Chinese movies are very artfully done with beautiful images. The last Japanese movie I saw was, The Last Gaysha. Brittish movies have good actors and as for the American movies, they are really at a low level today with actor that are chosen for their pastic surgury rather than acting talents.

    In my culture and the culture I now live in, I think that there is an insane emphasis on youth and a fear of death. Old people are no longer respected or listened to. Perhaps, they are near to death and are to be avoided for this reason.

    I have been able to see the dead and listen to them at times since a child and they are usually joyous and have comforting words for the ones left behind in human form who seem to have a difficult time dealing with their loss. The Phophet Jesus said, "Let the dead take care of the dead" and I see this as good and sound advise.

    The dead have a system in place to take care of new arrivals and less of the fears & drives associated with the human existence.

    I was in a 3 day coma as a child of two and remember floating over my body when I was seriously injured and unconscious and in the hospital watching my young parents at the time in their grief and terror and wondered what all the fuss was able. I was very happy and felt great and in no danger at all. This is probably the reason why I have never had much fear of death and can cross the line between life & death from time to time.

    I've had the view that it's harder to survive a tragic event with deaths than to pass on for most of my life.

    As far of my American culture, that Land worships the dollar and has little faith in anything else except for a small per cent of people with good sense and a natural faith. This is why they are such a fearful people who have lost their way.

    I have been lucky to meet a few saints in my homeland and these were usually common people or Nature americans of older age who had strong faith in whatever religion that they subscribed to. I have always thought that a Land of great darkness will draw a few of great Light to it to keep the balance. Perhaps something to ponder.

    Take care Susan,

  12. Encantador blog el tuyo, un placer haberme pasado por tu espacio.

    Saludos y un abrazo.

  13. sounds quite touching. i might put that on my list of movies-to-watch.

    japanese movies are so profound as are a lot of european films.

    have a lovely weekend!

    betty xx

  14. This sounds like a wonderful movie to watch. Sometimes we focus so much on the English movies that we forget about the brilliant foreign films out there.

    I am going to add this movie to my list! Have a great weekend.

  15. Coming from a mixed-family I've been exposed to films of different cultures from childhood. I'm half Sicilian but grew up in the States, the lived in Bangladesh and India for 10 years and loved Asian movies (especially the ones with Amitabh Bhachan and Aruk Khan:) My husband is Japanese so I love Japanese movies. I see you're from Tamil Nadu. When I was in New Delhi, I studied Bharat Natyam under Guru Dakshinamoorthi, who was from Tamil Nadu and his wife often prepared idlis and sambhar for me. We all love Indian food in my family. I'm following you from Trapani, Sicily.

  16. Must have been a lovely movie...I like Japanese Movies,especially for the soundtracks and the way they tell their stories.

  17. Alpana:

    You are very brave, dear Alpana. Proud to have known you.

    Alpana, it is wonderful if women take bold steps like you sisters. After all we make our own lives :)


    I shall have to look them up. Thanks for sharing, BBB.

  18. Brian:

    Ha Ha.


    I also wish that your cable company offers world movies. It is a wonderful channel.

    I wish you a great month of May.

  19. Jessica:

    Subtitles, what would we do without them? They also help us to learn some new words :)


    Catch them sooner, Jim.

  20. Joe:

    Death across cultures is so very interesting. I know, those days we had only Doordharshan and whenever a leader died, the programme for the whole day would be suspended. Gone are those thoughtful days :)


    Sorry if I aroused some fond yet sad memories. But sometimes our system does not prepare us adequately for deaths.

  21. Myrna:

    How nice to have you commenting again. Glad to have you back, dear Myrna. Missed your thoughtful comments.


    Grief and Bereavement work? I am hearing this for the first time, Nevine. I wonder how much toll that would put your through. I would really like to know more on this. Your comments are always a wonderful value addition to the posts :)

    I wish you a great month of May, dear Nevine :)

  22. Mike:

    I am absolutely speechless after reading your comment. What you have expressed here is quite true. More emphasis is on the young these days and old people are not much taken care of. Tribal cultures always have utmost regard for those who have passed on. They see them are their guardian spirits.

    Thanks for a wonderful comment, dear Mike.


    Please do watch the movie. Good one :)

    You have a great Month, dear Betty.

  23. Nelieta:

    Thanks Nelieta. I am sure you would enjoy the movie.

    Take care.


    Welcome Ciccia and how glad I am to have you here. Amitabh Bachan and Shah Rukh Khan sounds good. They are the icons of Bollywood.

    You seem to be more Tamilian than me by learning Bharatam. Do you still perform?

    I am from Tamil Nadu and I'm so happy to see someone like you in this Blog world.

    I would like to know about you and your work.

    Please do come by whenever and thanks for the following. it is much appreciated :)

  24. Blogoratti:

    It was, by Jove.

    And, yes, their sound tracks are great: solemn and gentle on the ear.

    Hope you have been well, Blogoratti :)

  25. La sonrisa de Hiperion:

    Gracias por venir. Me alegro de que les gusta este espacio. Alegría siempre:)

  26. I've been wanting to see this film, but I've never seen a copy. I agree with you. Films from the Far East are slow and calming with memorable music. Sus, I also recommend you these films: The Way Home (Korea) and The Road Home (China). They're 2 of my favorite films of all time!

    It's truly comforting to think of death as a passage rather than the end of life. When my father died, we sang joyful songs in his funeral because, as Christians, we rejoiced in his life with God despite his absence in our earthly lives.

  27. Age:

    You might not believe this but I was thinking of you when I was seeing the movie.

    Thanks for the movies you have recommended. I must download them right way. Age, perhaps I can download the movie and send it to you :)

    Hope you're well and healthy :)

  28. "Departures" was emotional and deeply touching. Sometimes one can find one's true calling in something unexpected, even through something others shun.
    Bergman's "Seventh Seal" is a reflection on death (though metaphoric).

  29. MW:

    Welcome and thanks for coming by. Bergman's films are also quite evocative and one can peel layers out of them. I'm happy that you've seen "Departures," not many have.

    Appreciate your insights :)

  30. Susan, I remember watching lots of movies on the same channel when I was in Delhi. But since 2009, owing to the inaccessibility of this wonderful medium I haven't been able to get back to this. No doubt, a wonderful way to widen one's horizon! Lucky you! :)

  31. Suraj:

    Thanks for coming by. Watching movies is indeed a lovely way to widen one's horizon.



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