Release Date: May 29 (limited)
Director: Yojiro Takita
Writer: Kundo Koyama
Cinematographer: Takeshi Hamada
Starring: Masahiro Motoki, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ryoko Hirosue, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Kimiko Yo
Studio/Run Time: Regent Releasing, 130 mins.
Affable but unfocused hit from Japan
On its face, the odd, clunky Japanese dramedy Departures pitches itself as a classic story of reinvention and renewal. It follows a young cellist (Masahiro Motoki) who is let go and lacks the talent to move to a different orchestra. He answers a newspaper ad and finds a job with a peculiar old man who prepares corpses for burial, a sticky profession he hides from his wife but quietly grows to like.
The dubious surprise winner of the 2009 Academy Award for best foreign film, the movie is directed by Yôjirô Takita, a prolific if undistinguished filmmaker with a long-established career in Japan. He typically works with bigger ideas and settings than this intimate, idiosyncratic movie can muster, and he never quite finds the footing to satisfy either his comedic and dramatic ambitions. Instead, the movie’s stock characters jump from one broad encounter to the next, which makes for a number of affable, nicely decorated scenes that become maddening in their lack of direction or discipline. Though not unpleasant, Departures can’t reconcile its bawdy sense of humor with the tiresome sentimentality that always lurks not far behind, and it never really recovers from the creative muddle.
Watch the trailer for Departures: