Fourteen odd funerals and no wedding

PUBLISHED: 10:58 04 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:35 07 September 2010

Departures (12A) Director Yojiro Takita Starring Masahiro Motoki, Ryoko Hirosue, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Kimiko Yo, Takashi Sasano. Japanese with subtitles.131 mins Three star rating Even within the annals of an organisation renowned for its thick headed, out

Departures (12A)

Director Yojiro Takita Starring Masahiro Motoki, Ryoko Hirosue, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Kimiko Yo, Takashi Sasano. Japanese with subtitles.131 mins

Three star rating

Even within the annals of an organisation renowned for its thick headed, out of touch decisions, this year's Academy Awards were a cavalcade of injustice. Obama's Nobel Peace Prize is nothing beside Mickey Rourke not getting his Best Actor award (what's the point in giving Sean Penn another Oscar for him to pretend to be uninterested in.) Despairing of wins for Slumdog and Penelope Cruz in Vicki Christina Barcelona, I didn't even notice initially that the Academy had even managed to misdirect the Best Foreign Language Oscar win for Waltz with Bashir.

So soon after Israel's excursion into Gaza and the West Bank, clearly some Academy voters decided that it might not be appropriate to give an award to an Israeli film about war and the compromise candidate they alighted on was this gentle, refined but seemingly unremarkable Japanese drama about undertakers.

When the orchestra he played in folds, Daigo (Mokoki) gives up on his dream of being a cello player and returns to his home town where he drifts into a job with a firm that performs a ceremony (translated as "encoffination") where, in front of the family and friends, the body of the deceased is very carefully and gracefully cleaned and prepared before being placed in the coffin. The pay is good but Daigo is ashamed of his work and tries to keep it secret from family and friends.

The film has a quiet, peaceful air that conjures up either an air of Zen tranquillity or Sunday evening family TV drama. Initially it all seems a bit too cosy, a little bit insipid but through the repetition of that ceremony the film gradually accumulates an emotional potency. It's 14 Odd Funerals and No Wedding, how can you not be moved?

You can see why the Academy would fall for it. It is similar to the kind of simple, wholesome, homespun dramas that they used to love throwing nominations at - On Golden Pond, Places in the Heart, Driving Miss Daisy - films where estranged families and couples slowly become reconciled as the seasons/ years pass. Except here the reconciliation is between man and his own mortality and place in the greater scheme of the whole universe, which rather trumps the more traditional feelgood factor.


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