The movie Departures narrated a peculiar journey of a Kobayashi Daigo towards his true calling as an encoffiner. After the disbandment of his orchestra, he and his wife migrated back to his hometown of Yamagata to settle anew. Assuming that a job posting on the newspaper was a travelling agency, Daigo was surprised to know that the aid in departures referred to in the advertisement was for the dead. Through his senior, Sasaki Ikuhei, he eventually learns and masters the art or skill of encoffining.
The movie showed two sides of what happened when a person dies, the sides of the family and the encoffiners. Personally, I do not give much thought on the meaning nor the actuality of death because of the dispirited feelings associated with it. Thus, the view of Shokichi on death as part of a transience were both interesting and confusing. On the first hand, I never viewed death as part of a journey. Rather, death to me is an end to one journey that is life here on earth. And from there, another journey begins. These two is not necessarily part of one process where life after death is viewed as a totally different story than Shokichi’s view as an extension of the life on earth. He offers a perspective where the negative associations of death could be alleviated in the sense that life could go on. Moreover, the interest in his statement could stem from the possibility or mystery as to what the other side could offer.
On the other hand, his statement was quite puzzling because it raises the question as to the reason of the death of the physical body. Is it a requirement for entrance to the other side? If so, is there a soul that continues? Such questions challenged me to think of death as it is than its effects. I think the mysteries surrounding death are because of the end of a communication to a physical person whose life has actually ended. His job was further intensified due to the death of Tsuyako. Through this thinking, it might appear to be a coping mechanism where he finds honor for the privilege of being one of the last to see before the dead leave for the “gateway”. Somehow, their insights from the other side would be helpful in resolving this case. (But I do not wish to be visited by any person who have gone from earth)
Keeping in mind the Buddhist concept of “no-self”, the identity when “I” is uttered is questionable as humans are constantly changing. Perhaps my confusion as to what goes through the journey could be explained through this doctrine. Firstly, I would agree that humans, whether physical or emotional are constantly evolving. What we refer to as I now, would not be the same I that would be doing or saying the same after some time. It might be possible that the person that would continue on the journey on the other side would only be a part of what he or she used to be. This appears to be a nod towards the metaphor of the flame used by the Buddhists. The old flame may not be the same as the new flame passed to the next unlit candle, yet traces of the old could still be associated to the new. Thus, whenever I remember a death of a loved one, the pain of their departure is not the only emotion they leave behind. Remnants of their old self remain and soothe their absence. While new flames or memories are made, the moments leading to those are instilled.
Besides the topic of death, the movie also used different symbolisms that could be associated with both life and death. The scene with the salmon struggling against the current while another dead salmon goes with the flow could represent life in itself or the efforts in trying to lengthen or extend avoiding the inevitable death. Though these efforts are worth the risk, the contrast of the salmon struggling and the dead fish puts into context how inevitable death is. However, it also reflects the kind of life that we go through. Next, when Mika, the wife and Daigo tried to restore the octopus who was supposedly their dinner, is reminiscent of the salmon wherein it could be that the octopus has met its destination, bringing it to its past state would be contrary to what it could serve. Upon entering the house, Mika and Daigo were nostalgic due to the collection of records owned by her dead mother. The records were memories to which the dad was associated. It reminds us of the concept where a person is a combination of parts. In this example, the father was physically gone but some pieces of him still remained. This shows how we are able to leave some of ourselves with others. It was also interesting to see the room of Sasaki where he eats which is full of plants. The plants could be a symbol for life; a reminder that although death could be both be a part of a journey or destination, life makes up the majority of such a process. The blossoms of life might mean his grounding that puts his whole view into perspective. While deaths happen everyday, so does life. The Christmas celebration at their office showed the ironic situation of enjoying a dead chicken for their appetite. This scene was both inviting and thought-provoking as it could constitute the balance that must be maintained sacrificing a chicken, or in a deeper sense some life for others to prosper or enjoy. Though the fried chicken does not automatically mean death, it could symbolize that death too could be somehow celebrated. Lastly, the stone letter of the father of Daigo given to him when he was young was probably the most symbolic. Stones in its literal sense are hard and stubborn. Yet, in this movie, it was given as a token of love defying the assumption that stones are not supposed to be used in love. It was solid and big, just like the father’s love for Daigo. Though it still is a mystery as to why his father held the stone Daigo gave when he was young on his deathbed, it speaks volumes of a father’s solid love for his child.
After watching the movie for the second time (the first during a recollection back in high school), I have always thought that my parents deserved a stone, rocky in some places yet big enough for them to hold in one hand. Though their methods to mold me is not at all smooth or soothing, the words they have told me are slowly starting to make sense now. I hope for them to retrieve it in my belongings along with some of the things that have sentimental value in them. I was always inspired by how Mia, from Princess Diaries retrieved his dad’s letter, finally convincing her to become a princess. In the same way, his job that he initially doubted, gave way for him to validate that all that has happened in the past was worth it. This movie does make you look at stones and encoffining differently.