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Social Analysis of The Japanese Film 'Departures'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 2676 words Published: 20th Aug 2021

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In 2009, a Japanese movie Departures, directed by Yojiro Takita, beat other entries and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2009 Oscars. This touching film attracted millions of audiences to the cinema. The movie is "about finding your bliss, even if the world thinks your bliss is odd, icky and a marriage breaker." commented by Mark Schilling (2009), film critic at Japan Times.

With this essay, we analyze this film from two main aspects, religion and society. We elaborate the concepts of Moksha and Karma of Buddhism and Hinduism as well as the filial Piety and family in Buddhism in the part of religious analysis and social analysis contain interpretations of respect to death, importance of family and meaning of life.


The hero, Daigo is a cellist in an orchestra in Tokyo. Unfortunately, the orchestra disbanded and he lost his job. He decided to move back with his wife to his hometown, Sakata, Yamagata and eventually gave up his music life.

One day, he found a job advertisement of an agency and finally got employed. However, he discovered that his job is to prepare the dead bodies ceremonially in front of their families before placing them into the coffin. He was too ashamed to talk about the job to his wife. Instead, he told her that he was working in a ceremonial occasion company.

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At the beginning, Daigo found himself not only difficult to face the corpse but the job also cause problems to his life. He would vomit even when he saw a dead chicken. However, after a few weeks working with his boss, the president of the agency he realized the meaning of the job and accepted his job gradually. While became more and more skilled in preparing bodies, he suddenly realized and started to enjoy the moment when families showed their deepest love to their past away beloved in the funerals.

Soon afterward, Daigo's wife and his friend discovered his job nature. Although they believed that it was a disgusting job and forced him to change the job, Daigo refused to quit. It made his wife leave him and go to live with her family. Daigo had to live alone. Two months later, his wife came back to him and she was pregnant. She asked him to quit again. At this moment, they were told that Daigo's friend's mother had just died. As an encoffining master, Daigo went to prepare her body. His wife was also present in the encoffining ceremony. Everyone in the funeral was moved by the love, earnest and respect to the dead from his gentle and skilled movement. His wife and friend finally accepted his job.

One day, Daigo received a letter which announced the death of his father. However, Daigo rejected to see his father due to the abandonment from his father in his early childhood. After encouraging from his wife and colleague, he was convinced to see his father. When he noticed that his father was holding a stone in his hand which his father promised to him every year he found that his father was still caring about him. Finally, he decided to prepare his father's body himself and forgave his father.

Religious Analysis

By telling a story of an encoffining master, the film indicates that death is an unavoidable part of life which we all know is true whatever our religious beliefs are. Most religions have theories and beliefs about the world after the death. Where are we going after we die? What are we going to do? Will we have any awareness? Thinking and questioning upon living and death consists basic parts of most religions.

Moksha in Buddhism

Although death is unavoidable, it is not equal to the end of life yet it can be a new start. The message sent in this movie is related to the Buddhistic Moksha theory.

This theory believes that death is just a process of life and it does not mean that we will disappear forever because the form of life is not limited by living or death. Virtue and moral spirit are also forms of human life which will always exist and affect others and our next generation.

When the industrial development was sweeping the whole Japan, traditional bathhouses, where Japanese people used to take a bath, also as a leisure center where people could chat, play chess or simply take a break were fading from cities and towns. Instead of bathing with families or neighbors in a bathhouse while chatting, more people tend to take a bath in their inbuilt bathrooms at home. New business buildings were constructed. Traditional bathhouses were being pulled down and the tradition of going the bathhouse was disappearing.

In the movie, the female proprietor of the bathhouse, mother of Daigo's friend, insisted to her bathhouse business and refused to accept the suggestion provided by her son of selling the bathhouse for building up new buildings. Eventually, she died of heart attack while working in her bathhouse; however her will of providing a warm and leisurely circumstance within families and neighbors through running the bathhouse in the town affected her son and it was understood by him. In the end, her son maintained her will as well as continued running the bathhouse.

Similarly, Daigo's father held a stone in his hand when he was dead and Daigo gave this stone to his child. In fact, what is behind the scene is that dead is just an ending physically, the spirit of caring for families of Daigo's father exists and will always be past to next generations.

Karma in Hinduism and Buddhism

Besides Moksha, the movie also expressed the idea of Karma in Hinduism and Buddhism.

William Garrett (2005, p.37) interpreted karma as the word from Sanskrit, the language of ancient India, which literally means "work" or "activity."

He elaborated the concept as,

"The theory of karma is, at its most basic, a theory about how activity occurs; it is a theory that turns on causality. We can say that the theory of karma is a simple insight into how experience works: acts have consequences. And in general, experience bears out this commonplace. We hear it stated frequently, though in different words: 'As you sow, so shall you reap' 'What goes around comes around.'"

Buddhism, on the other hand, links karma directly to the motives and intention behind an action. People who are kind and generous always have pleasant experience while evil or wicked people usually result in bad consequences or being punished.

In the movie, karma happened on everyone.

Toshiki, Daigo's father, had an affair and left his wife and son when Daigo was five years old, which is his act and is immoral. Dying lonely and feeling guilty to his family is the karma or bad consequence caused by his act.

When seeing Daigo refuse to see his father even though his father was dead, Yuriko, the other employee in NK Agency told Daigo her story which she had also had an affair and abandoned her young child and family when she was young. After years living alone in another city, she realized the "bad" act she had done. Yuriko understood Toshiki's remorse and sorrow because she had suffered from the same karma and feeling of being hated by her child all those years. Sympathizing with Toshiki, as well as herself, she tried to persuade Daigo to see his father and forgive him.

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At the end of the film, Daigo finally decided to go and see his father. When he entered the room and saw an old man lying on the floor, he was confused. After being apart for thirty years, time has blurred father's face in his memory. It has turned his father into an old man and took away his life and made this old man completely a stranger to Daigo.

However, time is not the only effect that causes this result. Actually, the day that Toshiki abandoned Daigo and left their home, Daigo abandoned Toshiki as well. From that day, he loved him as well as hated him. He tried so hard to capture every memory he and his father shared, so he kept the stone that his father gave him. On the other hand he hated him so much that he decided not to forgive him. He left the stone and their old house as well as his hometown and went to Tokyo. He never contacted his father after that either.

Daigo's resentment about his father as a motivation leads him to the karma that he would never have a chance to love his father or be loved by him. However, his love as an act leads him to his father again after thirty years' separation. When Daigo found the stone in his father's hand and totally forgave him, father's face finally became clear in his mind. His forgiveness as a seed blooms in a complete memory of his father and childhood which he has been seeking for thirty years.

Filial Piety and Family in Buddhism

Buddhism also treats family as an important concept. Children should respect and love their parents. Buddhism always emphasizes we should have gratitude to our parents because our birth is a significant favor and moral kindness. We can see Daigo's action is a kind of filial piety. Although the abandonment of his father left him a bad memory, he still went to his father's funeral.

In Buddhism, it is also emphasized that parents should be showing as a good example to children. It is because children will do things by following the model of their parents. If a father always does the bad things, then when his son grows up, he will also do the same bad thing. In the film. Daigo helped in his father's funeral is a good example to showing how to respect parents. He showed his love and caring to his father. After that, Daigo gave the little stone which his father was not able to give him when he was alive to his unborn son. The stone represents Daigo's love and caring. It seems that Daigo wanted to tell his son the relationship between a father and a son is very important.  Daigo 's action is a what the Buddhism always emphasizes.

Social Analysis

Respect to death

In the history of human exploring the world, funerals are always treated as an important ceremony by people, because it is believed a process which delivers dead people to another world.

In this film, the funerals were held in different religious forms such as Japanese traditional Buddhist form and Christian form. However, the director did not focus on the difference among different religious rites. Instead of talking about purposes and functions of those rites, the film focused on the process of the last farewell for a person. People all want the funerals of their families to be meticulous no matter what religions they believe in.

In this film, the relatives of the dead people want their child, husband or wife to look pretty and in peace. This is their only request to Daigo and it has nothing to do with their religious beliefs. It showed only the respect to the dead. Respecting death comforts the dead person as well as the living people. It seems that when we are facing a cold body, there is the no difference having different religious beliefs. The director placed death above religions and respect above religious rites during the whole movie. In the last part of the film, an old man said that death is just a door to another world. It is not an end but a transition. By showing the old man's fearlessness towards death, the director indicated that death itself is not a big deal. It is faced and should also be respected by all human beings.

Importance of family

The film also showed that the relation of people between families is not so close in this modern century: the husband did not know the favorite lipstick of his wife when Daigo asked him for his wife's favorite lipstick in her funeral; parents did not communicate with their son but only argued about the sexuality of him when lost their transsexual son; Daigo's friend only cared about what advantages he could take from his mother's bathhouse and even the main character, Daigo suffered from being abandoned by his father. These screens had reflected how wide the gap between men and their family in modern Japan society.

People would awake only after they had been lost. In every funeral, Daigo saw how remorseful men could be about their lack of love and care to their dead family members. Parents suffered from distress to the suicide of their son; son sorrowed over his mother' death but can only say sorry about not caring her enough when she was alive. Only in these moments, would people realize the connection between them and the dead families and regretted acting indifferently or even cold when their dead families were alive. Only in this moment, would men understand that the right way to treat family is to love and care but to argue and benefit. However, these were always realized too late and people could do nothing but regretting.

The movie projected that in this modern society relation between people becomes colder and colder. People only concern about their own business. There is only a little interaction among family members. Human touch is losing in people's daily lives. Family is always the shelter for men which protects us from being hurt and provides love that we need. Families are people who will always love and care about us and ask for nothing. When we are tired from working for bread and butter, we will go home and take a break. When we are hurt by the evils in the world, we turn to families for comfort. Some kids cry for loosing a toy and some do not but every kid cries for not able to find the way home. Family is always the most reliable and important part in human's life.

The film raises the warning that if men keep behaving cold toward their families, they would lost the most important thing in life and regret and coolness will be the only thing left for them. However the movie also shows hope by illustrating that we should treasure our family and treats them with love. It also points out that love is also a part of human beings.

Meaning and value of life

Daigo and his boss watched salmon swimming upstream and striving hard to get back to where they were born.

"Sad, isn't it. Come all this way just to die. It doesn't seem worth it." said his boss.

"They want to come home, back to where they were born." Daigo answered.

Everyone has a dream. Some lack determination and fail to achieve their goals while some have strong wills and therefore make things happen. Behind the success, there are sweats and tears but what is of greater significance is the opportunity we forgo of doing something else, which economists call opportunity cost. Opportunity cost always exists and it means when we are trying hard to achieve our goals we have to forgo something without choice. Sometimes those things can be so important to us.

"Coming all this way just to die, it doesn't seem worth it." By saying "it does not worth it", the director is actually asking "Does it worth it?" The movie here raised the question of life. What is the meaning and purpose of life? Whether we should have a life of working, eating and sleeping or a life of striving for fairness and justice? The latter may sound silly to people who work so hard only to increase the number in their bank accounts or try hard only to obtain a higher social status in Vanity Fair. Compared with them, the people who stand out and asking for equality, justice or a better life for all human beings illustrate a deeper understanding of the value of life which is not afraid of forgoing the chance to obtain personal gains but dedicating in striving for the profit for all human beings.

The movie Departures created a huge success in box house by earning US$61,010,217 in Japan. It arouse people's quest towards life and death and inspires people to think respect, love and value of life.


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