Saturday, August 29, 2009


Usually with my film festival selections, I'll avoid the seemingly obvious commercial movies that I'm fairly certain will come back to the cinema's after completing their run at the festival-and put my time into viewing stuff that I'm not so sure of making a return. Mostly, I focus on the documentaries & animation sections. These genres are a real treat to see on the big screen. But, having said that, I always allow myself a few exceptions, historical epics are one such category! Its pretty damn cool to see vast landscapes, epic struggles, battles etc, on the biggest scene possible. This genre in particular loses a grand sense of scale that regrettably, does get diminished by reduction to the average sized TV screen.

So, with that criteria in the background of my selection planning, when I first read the brief on this film, I immediately was seduced by its potential charm to make me really enjoy the benefits of seeing it on a big canvas.

I wasn't wrong...

Justifiably the winner of the best foreign movie Oscar in 2009 (And blitzing the Japanese Oscars with 10 tucked away safely!), this utterly charming & deeply moving film is damn near perfect from my point of view!

The story is of a Cellist Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki), who after unexpectedly losing his job with an orchestra, reluctantly decides to return to Yamagata (His hometown) with his dutiful wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) to pursue a new career. Of which, he has no idea! Spotting an Ad in the local paper for someone to help with 'departures', he investigates with eagerness, thinking it might be a new career in a travel related business. Of course, he is partially right. Only before the interview starts, he does start to wonder just why there are coffins in this office...
With the owner Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki) not wasting any precious time whatosever, i.e the job interview being one quick question, Daigo is hired immediately. Then he learns the truth about the company's business. Assisting the recently departed on their journey from this life to the next! Shocked, he is struck with a sense of 'how did it all come to this? so quickly in my life so far. But Sasaki is able to impress upon him the honour of such a job-and slowly over the coming weeks, Daigo begins to see things in an entirely new light. Observing the old man tenderly handling the deceased with a care & reverence that is just truly beautiful to watch, Daigo, begins to grasp the sensitive nature of this new job. At first, he is hesistant to assist, but gradually gains enough confidence to try the job firsthand. This new experience changes his outlook completely, and from that point on, there's no turning back. Or at least until Mika is made fully aware of just what Daigo actually does now for a living...

Everything about this beautifully crafted movie is perfect. From the understated, empathetic acting, the masterful direction from Yojiro Takita, the well crafted screenplay from Kundo Koyama, the stirring & majestic score from Joe Hisaishi, the set & production design-all combine brilliantly together to make for a fantastically powerful experience. Although, perhaps the most crucial element is the absolute respect the Japanese show for the deceased. It is an tradition that has been revered, honoured, and cherished for countless numbers of Japanese families for centuries. It is, unquestionably, a very moving experience to watch-even though this is a fictional tale! Half the audience we watched it with were sniffling, crying, sighing, all deeply affected by watching this cinematic masterpiece.

This was my favorite movie of the festival-and of this year to date. Its really hard to see anything else even coming close. Go and see it on the big screen if you can-otherwise buy or watch it when its available on DVD-or BluRay!

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