Departures (Japan)


Yojiro Takita looks at life, death and forgiveness through the work of a man who accidentally falls into the job of "nokanshi," one who ceremonially prepares corpses for encoffining.

Even in Japan, the job nokanshi is an unusual one, and working so closely with death means that it is not held in high regard. I wanted to make a film from the perspective of a person who deals with something so universal and yet is looked down upon, and even discriminated against. Other than doctors, very few people have much to do with dead bodies, and it's not the kind of occupation or subject that often appears in movies. There's always a kind of dialogue between people who have passed away and the families that survive them, and that's part of what I wanted to focus on.

There are a lot of scenes that revolve around food and eating. I've always liked that kind of scene in films, and here it emphasizes the direct relationship between eating, living and desires.

The film was all shot on location in Yamagata prefecture from March to May during the changing of the seasons. Almost all of the rural regional areas of Japan are in decline in terms of people moving away and old ways being lost. But even among such decay, there is great warmth to be found. When we went hunting for locations in autumn, the area was in many ways very sad and lonely, but we were also able to show its simple beauty.

I think humans are comical by nature, so the humorous parts of the film fit in very naturally, even alongside some dark themes. It's interesting to see people from other countries and cultures laughing and crying at the same places Japanese audiences do. Even though the film is very Japanese in a way, the themes couldn't be more universal.

-- Gavin Blair