09 June 2009


After reading Makoto Fujimura's review (which, in itself, is beautiful), I'm looking for ways to take Shelli to see "Departures." I'm reminded that film and story telling (and thoughtful, biblical commentary) have their place in pointing us to truth.
"The term “funeral parlor” does not quite do justice to the scene. The Japanese word “nokanshi” is closest to “encoffineer,” but the word only describes the task of preparing the dead body for cremation. The nokanshi in the Academy Award-winning movie Departures does the task, yes - but does so carefully, lovingly, and artfully.

Such an “art” of preparing the dead body seems unnecessary in today’s modern Japan: by law, the body will soon to be cremated, so pragmatism dictates only the minimum preparation. In Departures, even the grief-numbed family of the deceased cannot fully comprehend why this art is taking place. Other funeral directors do not really acknowledge that the occupation of nokanshi even exists in modern Japan.

Isn’t our task to get rid of the body as soon as possible? Apparently, we have all forgotten, in our pre-packaged, convenience-driven culture, how to bury our dead. And yet someone passes away every day somewhere in our provinces. Death is ubiquitous and immediate to our lives, but we do as little as possible to prepare to face that reality. Thus this “art” of preparing the dead body infringes upon the most sacred, and the most neglected, part of our lives. Departures chooses to dwells there, deep beneath the tradition and conventions of our days, and at the same time dares to plumb the depth of Japanese aesthetic and culture."

"...how many of those who see death as a gate, rather than an end, would dare do the unwanted task? Would we volunteer our artistry to consider those who may be neglected by society, or who do not see death as a preparation, our final destiny? Should we not be the first to engage with the sick (swine flu included) or the dead? Would we be honored to be called a misfit in order to fulfill a sacred call to serve the “least of these?”

Extravagantly and gently, Departures moves us to such emotional and spiritual quests. In Japan, beauty has always been associated with death; it is only now in Departures that we have a re-definition of Japanese beauty as a conversation for persevering, enduring life. It is a rare feast - even among the dead, the accursed ghosts haunting our convenience culture - to taste such lovingly crafted delicacy, a re-humanized vision for death and life.


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