New viewers of Asian cinema, especially if they are from a Western audience, often encounter many problems in understanding Asian movies. The cultural background of the film can often times be quite perplexing; Asian culture differs so vastly from Western culture that many new viewers tend to feel confused in their attempts to decipher the film. If the cultural context of a film confuses a viewer, it is likely he or she will not understand the plot or characters of the movie. Background information on the director as well as the style of the film are also critical; they can really help a viewer comprehend why a film is shot and organized in a certain way. By examining the cultural background, plot, characters, director, and film style of the Japanese movie 'Departures', a new viewer can gain a much better understanding and appreciation of the film.
The most important cultural aspect to understand in 'Departures' is the Japanese funeral. The practices portrayed in 'Departures' are traditional to the Japanese, but very foreign to the Western world. There is a common Japanese saying that states Japanese people are, born Shinto but die Buddhist. This saying refers to the Shinto idea that death is unclean; purity is an important part of Shintoism. Death is seen as unclean, negative, and as a sort of contamination, (Stanford). This saying also refers to the observation that most Japanese people seem to accept Buddhism as they grow older. When this happens, death is considered a natural process, a part of life (Stanford). The meanings this saying implies are evident throughout 'Departures'. Since Shintoism thinks negatively of death, the rituals performed when a Japanese person dies are mostly Buddhist in nature. Some Shinto elements, however, are mixed in.
[...] nokan). The rite of encoffinment is literally, the act of enclosing the corpse in a casket during the funeral” (Atsushi, Fukuyama, Kobayashi 32). This practice was originally performed by the family members of the deceased, but in contemporary Japan, the practice is now performed by professionals (Murakami 337). The ritual of encoffinment starts with the family of the deceased placing a call to the funeral home. The staff member of the funeral home asks the family member several questions about the deceased, including their religious affiliation and the type of coffin they would like to purchase. [...]
[...] This is common throughout Departures. Most of the encoffinment scenes are conducted in silence; this is mostly because this is how an encoffinment ceremony would really be performed. The ceremony is very serious and respectful, so silence is usually appropriate. The silence of these scenes also serves the purpose of letting the audience feel the emotions of the family members. Their grief and sadness is not always stated or shown explicitly, but one can feel their pain by watching these scenes. [...]
[...] Later on in the film, when this friend of Daigo must take care of his own mother's funeral, Daigo ends up being the encoffinment specialist summoned for the funeral. Daigo's friend seems a little uncertain at first, but as he watches Daigo perform the ceremony, his ideas start to change. Mika is also present for this particular encoffinment, and she also has a change of heart after watching her husband work. After this ceremony, Mika and Daigo's friend no longer look down on Daigo because of his profession. [...]
[...] He gives up playing the cello, which he had played since kindergarten, and decides to move from Tokyo back to his hometown. He has a house his mother left for him when she passed away, and he plans on finding another job. Mika agrees to go with him. She says nothing when Daigo decides to give up the cello. Daigo begins looking for work in his hometown, and goes for an interview at a company called Agent.” He assumes the position is for a type of travel agency. [...]
[...] Most Japanese do not believe the body is simply a shell for the soul; they view the body as a separate, but highly important, entity. The funeral rites must be carried out correctly, or else, the soul cannot be mourned” (32). The Japanese believe a corpse must be cared for until all funeral rites are complete. It is highly important that family members participate in the funerals of their loved ones; to refuse to do so would be viewed as disrespectful to the dead. [...]
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