Departures ★★★★

In spite of—or perhaps because of—its subject matter, "Departures" is ultimately an uplifting film that embraces life and urges the viewer to do the same. The filmmakers’ sensitive and respectful approach to death results in a movie whose thematic beauty harmonizes well with cinematographer Takeshi Hamada’s handsome lensing.

Moments of humor, some of them unexpected, are sprinkled throughout the proceedings. Director Yôjirô Takita handles the humorous instances with finesse, ensuring that they don’t compromise the serious drama with which the film is primarily concerned. The ending is genuinely moving by virtue of the catharsis that the protagonist experiences, which makes the manipulative aspects of the movie and the incongruous images of the main character playing his cello out in the countryside easier to forgive.

Joe Hisaishi’s score is not exactly subtle in trying to influence the viewer’s feelings, but it serves its purpose well enough without being overly sentimental. The heart-tugging theme of "Departures"—played on a cello, of course—has the power to bring tears to one’s eyes, particularly during a montage that includes a deceased boy.

All of the cast members have such expressive faces. That is especially true of Masahiro Motoki, whose assured and emotionally driven performance as Daigo Kobayashi evokes the viewer’s sympathy for the character. Ryôko Hirosue radiates warmth and love in the role of Mika, Daigo’s wife. Tsutomu Yamazaki’s restrained and nuanced acting quickly establishes Ikuei Sasaki as a likable man who has mastered the fascinating art—yes, I consider it a form of art—of preparing the body of a deceased person for the funeral.