better, study of - Pete Carapetyan's personal blog

Departures: Score 1 Against Sappy Emotionalism

09 May 2010
Posted by Pete Carapetyan

The film "Departures" showed up in my mailbox this week, and it may go on my top ten list.

Why? It was a thoroughly enjoyable exploration of what it means to be human, but without crossing over into the sappy emotionalism that is so typical of such films. That's a pretty cool feat. 

Exploring what it means to be a human in film can have all the emotional maturity of a sanitized Jerry Springer show. Messy emotionalism gets all mixed in, and decade after decade we end up with either Clint Eastwood easy solution dramatics or chick flick sentimentalism. I end up feeling manipulated somehow, even if it does a good job of selling a Hollywood film to the public - myself included.


Scene after scene in Departures, you'll see the main characters fully invested in whatever it is that makes life tick for them. You can feel their drive, their commitment, every bit as strongly as a Clint Eastwood film. Yet each remains very self contained and spare in their expression. The loyal patron of the hot baths is ecstatic about the facilities but pretends to the the proprietor to be only mildly satisfied. This keeps their daily relationship very spare, and gives them the space they need to continue it for decades.


After losing a loved one in recent months, it is particularly comforting to see this topic dealt with in such a respectful manner. How refreshing to see one family dealing with their mother's death even with some laughter, amidst the sadness.

I'm not sure if it's the Japanese culture or something else, but this film does a pretty good job of staying clean and easy to watch. Yet it's very rich, full of meaning and significance to anyone who has wrestled with life's challenges - win or loss. The handling of emotions is crisp, honorable, and respectful, all the while never losing it's punch.