I just finished watching the Japanese movie Departures. A friend recommended it to me a wile ago because she knew that Japan is a big part of my inspiration and personal history, and also because a lot of my work revolves around the theme of death. I have been dancing around the movie for a while, even though it was on Netflix. Mostly because I knew it would require more of me than your average blockbuster. But I’m glad I finally took the time.
Departures is a thought-provoking, funny and emotional film about a young man who decides to change his career as a musician. Initially he applies for a job at what he thinks is a travel agent, but he soon realises that he will be working with a different kind of departure, death. He takes on the job as an encoffiner, a person who prepares bodies for cremation through a traditional Japanese ritual of washing and dressing. Although the job is a lot more than he had bargained for, it ends up changing his life.
I don’t want to offer any spoilers, since summarising the plot alone would ruin the poetry of the full experience. So I’ll just share a scene that really touched me. The main character Daigo tells his partner about “stone letters”, how stones in ancient times were used to convey feelings from one person to another.
“Long ago, before writing, you’d send someone a stone that suited the way you were feeling. From its weight and touch, they would know how you felt. From a smooth stone, they might feel that you were happy, or from a rough one that you were worried about them.”
I love the idea of giving someone a letter that they have to interpret themselves. Emotions are never straightforward. So many feelings become entangled in the concepts we call love or fear. Whichever way you interpret a stone given to you doesn’t really matter. You will always know someone is thinking of you and wondering how you are.