Monday, August 17, 2009

Departures (2008)

On the one hand, it's obvious why Departures won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. It's overflowing with a familiar cloyingness that won't alienate audiences, and yet there's ample "foreign-ness" to make it appealingly exotic. Recently laid-off Tokyo cellist Masahiro Motoki returns to his hometown with his wife (J-pop superstar Ryoko Hirosue) and secretly begins work as a mortician. Ashamed, he keeps it a secret from her — and, expectedly, she and the town find out and ostracize him.

But then there's the influence of Juzo Itami's uncouth, bodily humor, which exerts itself in Depatures through Motoki's boss, played by Tsutomu Yamazaki of Itami's Tampopo and The Funeral. Whether slobbering over fried chicken, making off-color jokes about rotting corpses or using Motoki as a "human model" for the ritualistic preparation of the body (which includes stuffing gauze in unwanted areas), Yamazaki brings a much-needed inappropriateness to the film. His zest for pervy unpretentiousness does not go unappreciated.

Originally published in The L Magazine.

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