Japan’s ‘Departures’ is a surprise winner

A quiet, delicate Japanese movie about a man who ceremonially cleans and dresses bodies for burial made a loud statement Sunday in favor of intimate, offbeat subjects.

“Departures,” a film of solemn beauty interlaced with gentle humor, won a surprising upset victory for best foreign-language movie over the French entry, “The Class,” the semi-autobiographical story of a Paris schoolteacher, and “Waltz With Bashir,” an Israeli animated documentary dealing with the legacy of the 1982 Lebanon war.

Directed by Yojiro Takita, and written by Kundo Koyama, “Departures” (originally titled “Okuribito”) concerns itself less with broad social or political themes than with one man’s spiritual journey. It tracks a suddenly unemployed cellist named Daigo (Masahiro Motoki) as he moves back to his hometown and becomes utterly absorbed in his new employment, preparing the deceased for burial.

Although the film hasn’t been widely seen yet in the United States, it was an audience favorite at this year’s Palm Springs International Film Festival. A few bloggers in recent days suggested it was gaining dark-horse momentum.


The film’s distributor has said the movie will be released in 36 countries and will reach U.S. theaters in May.