Sunday, April 12, 2009

Brilliant Film: Okuribito (Departures)

What a brilliant film! Slow moving and zen like - but full of thoughtfulness, grace, ceremony and respect. Most of the dialog in the film is spoken in soft tones, the scenes bathed in gentle light, and the cello playing in mellow tones.

The way in which Daigo (the apprentice) and his boss/master approach the dead - gently massaging, kneading, using a careful eye to apply make-up and a respectful technique to cleanse and dress their "client" in japanese costume finery, all in full view of the mourning family members - makes one think of a beautiful and heartfelt performance. It is a solo performance, requiring technical skill and a heart for the art. It is a performance that coaxes beauty from what society attaches mostly negative feelings to.

The english title of the film is Departures (link to website here). And there are many of these in the film that are not just about death:
  • The departure of Daigo's cherished dream of being a professional cellist in an orchestra.
  • The departure of Daigo and Mika to the former's rural hometown from the big city.
  • The departure from the idea of a "normal" and socially acceptable professional life
  • Told in flashback, the departure of his father when Daigo was 6
  • The departure of Mika when she is not able to accept her husband's chosen profession.
There are departures from places, ideas, relationships ...... and physical bodies.

But each departure is accompanied by an arrival. It is impossible for it to be not so. To say more would give too much of the plot away, and I've already said too much as it is.

Departure is associated with loss and/or abandonment. Even if one loses the body, the spirit still lives on. Perhaps one does not lose his body. He gives it up, leaves it behind. But still has what's important with him. Daigo no longer has his orchestra job and his expensive cello, but he still has his playing skill and the child sized cello of his youth - and play it he does, in the home he grew up in, in his office at a company christmas party of 3, and in the open fields under the open sky with the mountains in the background. Performances that bring beauty forth from the substance (wood and string) and essence (the composer's creation, the performer's will)

Life and Death. Passages. Gatekeepers. Substance and Essence. Body and Spirit. All nicely captured in the role of the Okuribito - "a person who sees off".

Director Yojiro Takita has done a superlative job, melding many different elements - visual, characterization, script, music, the rural backdrop into a beautiful meditation, a rounded and thought provoking performance that leaves one feeling and thinking well after the ending credits fade off the screen. The soundtrack should make excellent listening on an overcast day.

Today, Easter Sunday 2009, marks the end of Lent. There's an excellent Op-Ed piece in the NYT by James Carroll, in which he writes about Lent. It's worth a read, and this section from the editorial rolled nicely into my thoughts that were still very tangled with the film:
The season begins with the word “Remember,” uttered as a blot of ashes is smudged on the forehead. Remembering the transience of life — ashes to ashes, dust to dust — remains the essence of the observance.
The Creation of Beauty.

Our lives are not "Things". Our lives are "Performances" to be experienced. With the technical & physical aspects, and just as importantly, the invisible spark of creation, imagination, passion and will.

In Anthony DeMello's book, "the Song of the Bird", he speaks of creation as a dance, performed by God. You cannot keep a dance in a bottle. It does not exist apart from the dancer, but it is not the dancer. It is to be experienced, not owned or bought or kept. It is to be Remembered.

A Creation of Beauty.


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