Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Big in Japan

Foreign film Oscar winner, Departures and the critically acclaimed Still Walking are two Japanese films, which both tackle the heart and soul of family but their final executed products differ greatly.

Departures depicts a musician, who loses his job and embarks on a drastic career change as an encoffiner. This job title involves ceremonially preparing the dead, as mourners watch on. As you may expect, the film is swathed with meloncholic love but relies too heavily on it's original subject matter. Our leading man's difficulties in overcoming such fears as a dead body and his wife's reluctance to accept his new profession is all executed in such a predictable manner, that the film loses it's emotional grip. Any elegance created in it's approach to the subject matter is lost, as we are continually fed tired old emotional cliches and Hollywood-style plot devices. One cannot doubt the passion and good intentions of all who made Departures but ultimately it's emotional punch is severely undermined by cheap narrative manipulation.

Hirokazu Koreeda's Still Walking was one of the best films released (U.S.) in 2009. Koreeda's filmography is well worth delving into; After Life, set inbetween death and heaven and Nobody Knows, a tale of four abandoned children attempting to survive on their own are both interesting and probably more accessible works than Still Walking. The derided Departures is a film which initially intrigues due to it's subject matter, yet on the surface of it, Still Walking's story appears fairly unspectacular - merely a family gathering, who continue to struggle from a previous tragedy. Tension, unspoken words and rivalry are typical family traits and onscreen can feel a little two dimensional but this picture earns our respect, creating a family with depth, subtlety and a distinct emotional realism. No tricks required and the Ozu-compared Koreeda realises this, as he paces the film beautifully and allows his characters to be themselves - the good, the bad, the ambiguity.

And here for a little fun and to satisfy my eighties music fetish is some tuneage by that German band, Alphaville:


  1. Plus "Departures" is sooooo boring. It's ridiculous how Oscar insists on choosing the most middlebrow movie every time!

    Also now I have Alphaville stuck in my head.

  2. Haha sorry Jose - it is a catchy number.

    Agreed, what did Departures beat that year?

  3. No worries, I do resent you for the eventual "Forever Young" fever this gave me though.

    "Departures" beat the much much better "The Class", "Waltz With Bashir" and "Revanche" (which was one of my top films of 08), also "The Baader Meinhof Complex" which I've yet to see.

  4. Resentment noted:)

    Ah yes, both The Class and Waltz were 'round my top ten of 2008 too. Not seen Revanche and didn't care for Baader at all. What was your number one film for '08?

  5. "WALL-E"!

    Also "Revanche" is spectacular! In a whole subtly operatic, karma's a bitch, way.

  6. I just ADORE Big In Japan! Thank God I didn't learn the song from watching the video :p

  7. Still need to see Still Walking; I thought Nobody Knows was excellent.

    Totally agree re. Departures:

  8. I agree with your Departures review completely. Great minds and all...

    It's funny how when one first enters the world of film, heavy symbolism was often such a winner...now, any sign of such cheap tricks, I wince in disapproval.