The story concerns a young couple, the film begins with the husband, Daigo, a cellist whose orchestra goes out of business, needing a job. He answers an ad which says that applicants do not have to have a lot of experience, the position is high paying, and the work is with “departures”. Thinking it might have something to do with travel, Daigo goes to apply for the position. The boss asks him one question “Will he work hard”, when he answers yes, he is hired. He then finds out that the word departures is a typo, it should read “departed”. The job is to prepare dead bodies for funerals.
From this premise the film, albeit slowly, explores issues of life and death, the meaning and responsibilities of living a full existence, and the respect we show, or do not, show to those around us.
I was reminded while watching the film about the Jewish tradition of Chevra Kadisha, translated as holy society. Their role is to make sure that the bodies of Jews who died are prepared correctly for burial according to tradition, including the ritual cleaning and dressing. Like the film shows according to Japanese tradition the body is to be purified and cleaned and then covered by appropriate clothes (what is appropriate differs). Chevra Kadisha is perceived as a ‘good deed of truth’ since it is a favor that the recipient cannot return.
While I suppose the basic plot line was fairly predictable and for those who desire action films it will be a slow slog, I enjoyed the film a great deal, enjoyed the acting and emotional moments, and was happy to listen to the great cello playing that was interspersed. Learning more about the Japanese traditions associated with burial and seeing the overlap with other comparable traditions was also pretty interesting.