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'The Departure’ looks at selflessness and suffering from a Zen monk's view

'The Departure’ looks at selflessness and suffering from a Zen monk's view
Ittetsu Nemoto in Nagoya, Japan, in the documentary "The Departure." (Drifting Cloud Productions)

Ittetsu Nemoto, the Zen monk at the center of Lana Wilson's documentary "The Departure," is on his phone a lot and loves dancing at nightclubs.

The latter appetite is because he needs the release, since the former has a tendency to crowd his soul: Nemoto's calling is suicide prevention, and texts like "I want to die" are not uncommon. Many missed calls in a row is equally worrisome.

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A hard-drinking bad boy turned soft-spoken Buddhist priest, Nemoto operates out of a temple in the countryside, where his wife frets about his client load, his toddler son runs around freely, and those in need of counseling come for his signature workshop. Called "The Departure," it involves calmly imagining one's own death, and what that kind of momentous giving up entails.

Wilson's movie, her follow-up to another powerful choice-in-mortality doc, "After Tiller," is a quietly observant portrait of the toll Nemoto's work has on someone who finds himself going through his own big questions about life: with a health issue that only appears to be getting worse, Nemoto is beginning to reconsider how much time he spends with his troubled clients at the expense of his family and self. Unfailingly sensitive about issues of selflessness and suffering, "The Departure" is in a way its own work of meditation, on the pressures of living up to the turbulent promise of life's expected length.

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‘The Departure’

In Japanese with English subtitles.

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

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