Just saw Departures at the neighborhood theatre. The movie is on it’s way out tomorrow, I suppose to its final resting place in the Netflix archives. If you haven’t, please see it.

Better to leave the premise a surprise because it’s not at all what one would expect. Enough to say that it’s about the care and feeding and dispensation of flesh. The story is one of those emissaries from another world that under normal circumstances remains invisible. And it could only come from Japan. Visually, it has some of the stillness and surreal of miyazaki animation. And yeah, it’s sentimental, but also possesses a memorable clarity and precision and artifice, that reminds me in a lot of ways of origami.

On the bus to the Fillmore on this overcast San Francisco evening I’m cool with anything sentient and material and that promises release.


7:25 am warm foggy morning


I need to book out of here so I get to my appointment on time and don’t get berated by my rad therapist.

But I can’t stop thinking of this movie.  So what the heck, it’s about a second rate cellist who moves back to his hometown and gets a job assisting with casketing – the ceremonial preparation of bodies before they are placed in coffins.  I’ve never seen 6 Feet Under, so maybe this is all worked-over territory, but I’d like to think not.

What I love.  I love how the practitioners express no emotion, so that the slightest gesture has titanic force.  And how they unfold the burial kimonos by partially enrobing themselves, how each day they consciously reestablish their affinity with the dead.  And how after the young cellist deals with his first body – an old woman who’s been rotting in her home for two weeks – he comes home to dinner and his wife and he vomits in the sink and then uncontrollably kneads her flesh and you realize as he does the wonderful plasticity of living flesh and the power of any body when life courses through it.

And I love the intimacy between the casketers and the bodies they are preparing, an intimacy and respect that the bodies may have never felt even in their lifetimes, and how the casketers engage with the most perfect sort of dispassionate love.

And the recognition of the intense sensitivity required to do anything well, and the difference between doing something well and not, and how the cellist’s wife comes to accept what her husband does and she can say proudly, he is a professional.

And I love how the boss says he does all religions – buddhist, muslim, christian – makes no difference to him and you come to understand the power of his own creed. Unless you want to die, you must eat, he says.  And if you must eat, eat well.  Eating is good, he says.  So good that I sometimes hate myself.

7:40.  Gotta run.

2 thoughts on “Departures

  1. I missed this movie but wanted to see it. I felt the same way about my dad’s hospice nurses–they treated him with such kindness and respect, and even let him know what they were doing after he had died and they were preparing him for the mortuary. It makes me feel grateful to think of their care.

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