Departures (2008)

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Departures is a 2008 Japanese drama film directed by Y?jir? Takita and starring Masahiro Motoki, Ry?ko Hirosue, and Tsutomu Yamazaki. Loosely based on Coffinman, a memoir by Shinmon Aoki, the film follows a young man who returns to his hometown after a failed career as a cellist and stumbles across work as a n?kanshi—a traditional Japanese ritual mortician. He is subjected to prejudice from those around him, including from his wife, because of strong social taboos against people who deal with death. Eventually he earns their respect and learns the importance of interpersonal connections through the beauty and dignity of his work.

The idea for Departures arose after Motoki, affected by having seen a funeral ceremony along the Ganges when travelling in India, read widely on the subject of death and came across Coffinman. He felt that the story would adapt well to film, and Departures was finished a decade later. Because of Japanese prejudices against those who handle the dead, distributors were reluctant to release it—until a surprise grand prize win at the Montreal World Film Festival in August 2008. The following month the film opened in Japan, where it went on to win the Academy Prize for Picture of the Year and become the year's highest-grossing domestic film. This success was topped in 2009, when it became the first Japanese production to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

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