If your clients can enjoy a film with subtitles, the 2008 Japanese movie Departures presents a beautiful and humorous meditation on life, death and funeral rituals. This Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film can help open the door to funeral planning conversations.
Viewing scenes from Departures also facilitates discussion of the value of funeral rituals in processing grief and provides a glimpse into one aspect of the funeral profession, the preparation for viewing.
Departures traces the professional and personal transformation of Daigo, an unemployed cello player, into a specialist in the ritual of encoffinment for the dead. Along his journey, we see families transformed as they watch their loved ones meticulously prepared for their final dispositions.
More than 99% of the population in Japan is cremated, and ritual is part of the process. In the United States, the national cremation rate is now 44% on average, with some states as high as 74% (Nevada) and others as low as 16% (Mississippi). Roughly 30% of cremation families do not hold some sort of ceremony.
Departures shows the transformation of families as they watch the purification ceremony of washing, dressing and makeup application to prepare the deceased for their afterlife journey. Traditionally, the family did this death care themselves at home. Although the film implies this ceremony in the home is routine, these days it is usually done behind the scenes at a funeral home.
Departures also illustrates the discomfort and aversion many individuals feel about people in the funeral profession.
Daigo’s journey to become a professional coffin man has its challenges. He hides the truth about his new job from his wife. She leaves him after she finds out what he’s really been doing when he goes to work. He witnesses scenes of family strife, is scorned, and wants to quit. Yet, he stays on and becomes adept at preparing the deceased with care and grace.
The film resonates with themes of family discord and reconciliation. Daigo’s wife returns, and she learns to respect the profound impact of his work.
By the end of the film, the preparation ritual becomes personal for Daigo, as he faces his deceased father who abandoned the family decades earlier. While “washing away the weariness of the world” for his father’s departure, he is able to come to terms with his own anger and find forgiveness.
Departures offers food for thought on what may come after this physical lifetime ends and beautifully illuminates the intertwining of life and death. This film can enable your clients to benefit from a story that addresses difficult subjects with humor and grace.
Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death®, is the host of the A Good Goodbye TV series and Internet radio show on the RockStar Radio Network. She is author of the award-winning book, A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die, a Certified Funeral Celebrant and a public speaker who uses funny films to help start preneed funeral planning conversations. Her website is www.AGoodGoodbye.com.
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