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This is a past article published in Hiragana Times. Each Japanese paragraph is followed by its English translation or vise versa, and furigana are placed above each kanji to make Japanese study even easier. [Magazine Sample] [Subscription Page]

The Story of a Mortician who Assists People on their Journey After Death

[From March Issue 2010]

Departures (Directed by TAKITA Yojiro)

©2008 映画「おくりびと」製作委員会

“Departures” is the drama that won the 81st Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2009 Oscars. At the 32nd Japan Academy Awards, it won the Best Film Award, in addition to other awards for its cast and crew.

The main character KOBAYASHI Daigo (MOTOKI Masahiro) is a former cellist. He gives up his career after his orchestra in Tokyo is disbanded. He moves back to his old home in Yamagata Prefecture with his wife Mika (HIROSUE Ryoko) and looks for a new job. He notices a classified ad that says, “assisting travels,” and feeling certain that the NK Agent company is a travel agency, he requests an interview.

The company president (YAMAZAKI Tsutomu) doesn’t bother reading Daigo’s resume and hires him on the spot. But Daigo is worried because he still doesn’t know what kind of work it is. Timidly he asks, only to find out that his job is encoffinment, the task of placing dead people in coffins. Apparently the classified ad was miss-written and should have read “assisting departures (deaths).” Daigo further learns that the company’s name, NK, is short for “NouKan” (encoffinment).

Daigo can only tell Mika that his work is related to “ceremonial occasions.” Mika misunderstands this to mean that he is now working at a wedding hall. On his first job, he deals with the corpse of an old woman who lived alone and was found two weeks after she died. He vomits.

Gradually Daigo starts to feel pride in his work, which is greatly appreciated by the bereaved families. Then, Mika finally learns what he really does and begs him to “get a regular job.” While Mika gets upset and returns home to her parents, Daigo remains, instead, focusing on becoming a full-fledged mortician.

Mika suddenly returns to tell Daigo that they are going to have a baby. He is happy to hear that, but again Mika presses him to change his job because she thinks their child will eventually be bullied because of it. Then, Daigo’s cell phone rings. It’s his childhood friend YAMASHITA, who also once suggested that he find a “better job,” telling him that his mother, Tsuyako, has just died.

Daigo and Mika face Tsuyako’s corpse, and in front of Yamashita, his family and Mika, he encoffins the body. He makes up her face and dresses her in her favorite scarf and kimono. Finally Yamashita and Mika both realize just how serious Daigo takes his job, and they both come to understand and appreciate his work.

Later, Daigo receives a telegram informing him of the death of his estranged father. He does not remember his father, who left his mother when Daigo was only six years old. For Daigo, who also lost his mother, the concept of “parents” is almost nonexistent. Initially Daigo refuses to claim the corpse. But, persuaded by Mika and others, he decides to see his father’s corpse. There, he is freed from his hatred and conducts his father’s encoffinment.


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