Often in our culture, we avoid talking about death. Sometimes, instead of pushing ourselves to face or confront a topic that we simply don’t feel comfortable with- we can instead do something different- like watch a movie! 😊
That is what I love about watching and sharing movies. A well-crafted, well-directed movie can be a remedy to heal the places inside us that feel contracted and shut down. The 2008 Japanese film Departures– which won the Oscar for the best foreign film- is a wonderful movie to shift our perception on death and dying.
Departures is the story of Daigo, a young man who finds himself suddenly unemployed when the orchestra where he plays the cello disbands abruptly. He and his wife move back to Daigo’s paternal home that was left to him by his deceased mother. Not having any other marketable skills and desperate to find work, any work, Daigo interviews for a position in “departures” at a NK company- that he mistakes for a travel agency. “NK”- he later learns stands for “Nokanshi” – the Japanese term for an encoffineer or funeral professional who prepares deceased bodies for burial and entry into the next life (hence the word “departures.”)
Initially, Daigo resists this work, becoming violently sick and vomiting after seeing a dead body for the very first time in his life. One of Daigo’s friends advises him that he should get a “real job.” His wife leaves him because she feels this work is “dirty” and “filthy” – and will subject their family to shame and embarrassment from their social circle.
However, Daigo’s boss, who hires him moments after the initial interview, tells him that he is born to do this work. Gradually, Daigo moves from apprentice to full-time encoffineer. We witness the care, affection and respect with which he learns to attend to the deceased. As we watch him bathing the body, shaving the face, robing the body with Japanese flowing garments, combing the hair and applying makeup- gradually the process of death and dying is no longer to be feared or pushed away. Instead, death and dying can be given the same attention, dignity and respect that we would give to life and living.
Daigo eventually feels this work is his life’s calling. Previously, it invoked disgust and disdain. Now he can see that it is an important and helpful bridge, gently carrying the deceased into the next life, and allowing the relatives still living to mourn and honor their departed loved one with respect, dignity and beauty. One widower who recently lost his wife thanks Daigo and his boss for how they prepared his wife’s body- commenting that she never looked more beautiful.
In mastering the art of caring for the deceased, Daigo embarks on a spiritual journey which will ultimately lead him to a fuller, richer experience of living- with joy and wonder and forgiveness. The movie also manages to deal with a heavy topic- that of death- with light strokes of humor so many parts of the movie are quite comical. 😊
Click here for a trailer of this movie.
This movie is available on Amazon, YouTube, GooglePlay, iTunes, and Vudu
Hope this movie touches and opens your heart!