by Brad Nelson
If the Richter scale is the measurement of the severity of earthquakes, then the Bourne scale is the measurement of camera shakes and baseless freneticism in movies. I absolutely loved the first movie in the Bourne trilogy. But the third was about as bad as it gets in terms of filmmakers seemingly running out of ideas and substituting motion for plot, suspense, character development, and drama. So what does this have to do with the price of tea in China…or Japan, in this case?
Well, Departures is a Japanese movie in which you can count the car crashes, camera shakes, murders, suicides, disembowelments, and f-bombs on one hand…and still have 5 fingers left over. Departures is more of a Zen of a movie. For those who must have their 800 cc’s of mainlined freneticism, this movie isn’t for you. Stop reading. Take the blue pill now. And there aren’t even any naked chicks in this one either. No big flaming balls of fire. No witticisms dropped as someone is stabbed in the eyeball with an ice pick. (“I think he got the point.”)
But if you like to see what a filmmaker can do painting with a palette mostly of muted colors on a truly human and humble scale, this may be the movie for you. It will grow on you if you give it time, if you don’t mind watching the paint dry for a while.
Imagine a young Japanese cello player, fresh from losing his job with a small-time orchestra, interviewing for a job advertised as working in the field of “departures.” He thinks this must be some kind of travel agent’s job. But not quite. Instead, the job has to do with some ancient Japanese custom of giving the dead a proper send-off. And from there the laughs just keep on coming.
Well, actually, I don’t think there’s even a slight guffaw in the entire film. This is more of a “boy meets dead bodies and falls in love” sort of film…umm, generally speaking, that is.
I’ve never taken part in a Japanese tea ceremony, but the rituals involved in preparing the dead are likely just as involved, just as meditative, and just as calming in their own way. A movie such as this is more of a meditative experience than a Bourne Ultimatum taser-like jolt of energy. (No, I’m just never going to let go of that truly awful third installment of the Bourne series.)
Rather than feeling alive only because adrenaline is spurting out your ears, Departures is a movie that will make you feel life in a very deep way. That it does it through death shows the sensitive touch that the filmmakers bring to this movie. I give it 3 rolled-up-rectum-towels out of 5. Available for streaming on Netflix. • (871 views)