The Cultural Life of Japanese People as Depicted in “Departures”


Films play a significant role in a cultural scene and explain people’s way of life in a particular society or community. They elucidate social beliefs and values, as well as inherent expectations. Basically, the audience can understand a culture through visual presentations based on personal memories and experiences (MacWilliams 264). Although Departures might contain various themes, such as isolation, it is critical in explaining the cultural life of the Japanese people.

Summary of the Film

Departures is a 2008 film tracing the life of a young aspiring cellist who returns home after experiencing failure in his career. The Japanese drama follows the life of Daigo Kobayashi, who is suddenly left unemployed after the disbanding of a premier symphony orchestra. The challenge leaves him with a strange feeling that he is a mediocre artist who is not meant to succeed in this field. He returns home to the northeastern region of Yamagata with his wife (Takita). There, he settles for a job as a traditional Japanese ritual mortician, which causes considerable prejudice among members of the community, including his wife.

Analysis of the Film

Departures is a pleasant and complex journey into the Japanese heartland and a specific view of its people’s cultural heritage. The film features the social beliefs of Japanese people living in the region of Yamagata. For example, it reveals the strong taboos surrounding the subject of death (Takika). People view it as a spiritual topic with uneasiness (MacWilliams 262). When Daigo Kobayashi returns to his hometown after the failure of his music career, he accepts a position working in the ceremonial “encoffination” of the dead before cremation. The community lacks respect for those who are in contact with the departed. Although death is inevitable, society remains apprehensive of the dead and all activities accompanying the natural process.

The film shows cultural practices, such as the “encoffination” of corpses before their final disposal. Regardless of the taboo surrounding exercise, it is an important process in this culture. Sasaki, Kobayashi’s predecessor in this occupation, is committed to finding an individual who can take over the job since he is becoming old (Takita). In fact, he is prepared to pay anyone who succeeds him. The two characters believe they are providing a critical service to the community by caring for the departed. They support the deceased’s family in the transition process from the living to the dead and help them come to terms with the loss of a loved one. Therefore, the film portrays a vital part of the culture of the Japanese people in dealing with an inevitable part of life: death.

Personal Reflection

Departures is a thought-provoking film about the cultural heritage of the Japanese people, especially those residing in Yamagata. It provides vital lessons on the relationship between the living and the dead. It also shows the uneasy view of the culture towards those who deal with the departed, regardless of their significant contribution to society.


The review clearly shows that Departures involve a life experience of a failed music career and the decision to settle as a traditional mortician. It shows the cultural reality of people who accept death as an inevitable part of life but are unwilling to deal with the subject. This film depicts a person determined to earn respect from his family and peers while working a job surrounded by social taboos.


Works Cited

MacWilliams, Mark W. Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime. Routledge, 2014.

Departures. Directed by Yōjirō Takita. Amuse Soft Entertainment, 2008.

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