here's a review i wrote last month - forgot to post it at the time so here it is now...
Departures (dir. Yojiro Takita)
When newly-unemployed cellist Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Matoki) answers an advert titled ‘Departures’, he’s unsettled to discover himself not in travel and leisure, but a funeral home (“It’s a misprint – it’s ‘the departed’” explains stoic boss Tsutomu Yamazaki). Kobayashi dedicates himself to his new art, his face a mask of concentration and respect whether the body he handles is hollow wood or the flesh of the dearly departed. The wordless scenes of Kobayashi and his mentor preparing bodies for cremation highlight the intimate relationship between funeral professionals and their corporeal subjects, with lingering close-ups of expert hands cleansing the deceased and making them glow with the echoes of lives lived. That the film can project gravitas and beauty, yet find room for a pre-title cock-joke illustrates the confident tone of Yojiro Takita’s lyrical Oscar-winner. The discovery that, like life, death is multifaceted –bittersweet, tragic, cathartic, amusing – is handled delicately, and the results are genuinely moving.