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: