I’m not big on “reading” movies. Foreign films with English subtitles have to be really good to keep my attention and warrant the effort. But I’ve recently watched a Japanese film that was definitely worth the multitasking involved—reading the subtitles while watching the action on the screen. While my husband might ask, “What action?” I found Departures to be quite moving. It has much to say about the importance of grieving for living a healthy and balanced emotional life.
Daigo (Masahiro Motoki), a recently unemployed cellist, and his wife, Mika (Ryoko Hirosue), move back to his hometown when the orchestra that employed him disbands. Looking for work, Daigo responds to an opportunity in “departures.” He and Mika guess that the position may have something to do with the travel industry. He is taken aback when he learns that the job actually involves preparing the recently “departed” for their coffins.
Daigo takes the job in spite of his obvious initial discomfort—and humorous and horrifying first experiences of the work. He keeps the nature of his work a secret from Mika for as long as he can. What he learns along the way both challenges and changes him.
The losses Daigo encouters involve more than the physical deaths of the bodies he ritually prepares for their coffins. There is the loss of his career as a cellist, the loss of Mika’s respect when she learns about the nature of his work and the loss of a treasured town landmark. There are also ungrieved losses in Daigo’s life which his work helps him through. As he and Mika enter a new chapter in their relationship, Daigo is able to close the door on a unresolved chapter in his life that has haunted him for many years.
Frank Frost, our “Movie Moments” columnist for Every Day Catholic, brought this exquisite film to my attention. He reflects on it in our November issue, “Comforting a Grieving Friend.” I watch each month’s film to select two short clips for small groups to use. Find these in our free online small-group guides. If you’re having a movie night, check out my questions for reflection and sharing on the entire film.
In the end, we accept grief as a highly personal process, as the director of Departures says, “for confronting death as a way to realize the joy and the value of living.”
This month of November began with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. We often are invited to keep our beloved dead in our prayers in a special way during November. For those who have experienced the death of someone very close to them, thoughts of their loved one(s) are never far away at any time of the year.
Our grief is a sign of our love. Support those who are grieving with patience and compassion—during November and all through the year.