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Departures - Japanese film

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Departures - Japanese film

Departures is a a Japanese film from 2008 based on Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician by Aoki Shinmon. I would not show the entire film in class, but I would show clips to let students gain a sense of Japanese Buddhist culture. The film is also wonderful in detailing the importance of rituals in Japanese culture. Students could compare and contrast the mourning rituals with other rituals within Japan or with rituals of other East Asian countries.


Summary: It tells the story of a cellist, who is forced by lack of success, to leave Tokyo with his wife and return to his small hometown. In returning to his childhood house, he is filled with pain at the memory of his father’s abandonment as a young boy. Daigo’s first order of business after the move is finding employment. He answers an advertisement that offers good pay and handles “departures.” Thinking it is a travel agency, Daigo answers the ad and goes in for an interview. There, he is greeted by a kindly older man and young woman in an office space that has burial coffins leaning against the walls. Daigo discovers that “departures” has nothing to do with a travel agency, but is in reference to the soul leaving the body. The company’s service is going to the homes of the deceased and performing the ritual ceremony to prepare the body after death. This includes cleaning the body, changing the body’s clothing, and preparing hair and makeup. Every movement is practiced and done in a deliberate, ritualistic way, with the family kneeling before them, watching and mourning. Daigo’s hesitance in getting into the business dissipates when he begins to perform the ritual and realizes the closure it gives to the families of the deceased.When Daigo’s wife finds out about the line of work he’s taken up, she sees it as a shame upon their house and she leaves him. Students could compare this to the caste system in India. Despite this, Daigo continues the job, eventually earning her respect when she witnesses a ritual and also sees the importance of the ritual for mourning families. The film eventually reaches a full circle when Daigo is confronted with his father’s death.