Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) leads a ceremonious farewell in Departures (2008)
Death is an ever-troubling topic Departures (2008) is a moving film that tackles it head-on. Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki; pictured) is an orchestral musician in Tokyo searching for a job back in his hometown, Yamagata. He sees an advert for assisting ‘departures’, something which he assumes refers to travel. It actually refers to preparing dead people’s bodies for their departures from this world. Still, he takes the job: he needs the money.
With due sensitivity, dignity, and ceremony, he learns to prepare dead bodies for entry into the next life in front of mourning families, delivering some form of closure through peaceful rituals.
But Daigo’s job is associated with a lot of stigma: no one around him wants to talk about dying! Now he must face death every day as a gatekeeper before it. He does this with pride and gentleness despite the strain it causes on those he loves.
Some philosophical themes are woven into the film’s touching sequences, passing attachments in Daigo’s own life, often with comedic effect, as he seeks to make reparations to the interpersonal connections death severs:
- Absurdism: There is something performative about funerals: they are farewells. But while one cannot repair loss, they can learn to accept it. Daigo is able to locate absurd symbols to renounce death's taboo and orientate himself toward closure.
- Wabi-sabi: According to this quintessential Japanese aesthetic, there is beauty in imperfection, impermanence, and incompleteness: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. Adopting wabi-sabi will detach one from dispiriting materialism, ridding them of the insanity loss causes and usurping it with an embrace of death.
- Dasein: Daigo is able to absorb the existential purity of life in becoming aware of his own finitude through rituals: to be in charge of and understand his own existence, from its history to its end. Death is not a 'mysterious thing' or 'null' or an 'abyss' but rather a covered way of being, something that, although unknown, is positive (Young 2015). If 'man' wields death, Heidegger says, he is aware of the full possibilities ahead; he is free to Exist.