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Zen Movies: A Recommendation

Carl Hultman

These are not recommendations of movies about Buddhism, but rather ones about the human condition, the lives of ordinary people, though every life, when viewed deeply, is extraordinary. As Deshan (ninth century Chan master and curmudgeon extraordinaire) is quoted as saying: “What is known as ‘realizing the mystery’ is nothing but breaking through to grab an ordinary person’s life”.

This weeks recommendation is the Japanese film “Departures”. It is a beautifully crafted film with wonderful performances across the board and a very moving story. It is a movie that stays with you and one on which I look back and not find the slightest thing to change.

From Wikipedia: “Departures” is a 2008 Japanese drama film by Yōjirō Takita. It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 81st Oscars in 2009 and the Japan Academy Prize for Picture of the Year at the 32nd Japan Academy Prize.

Daigo Kobayashi, a cellist in Tokyo, loses his job when his orchestra is disbanded. He decides to move back to his hometown, Sakata, Yamagata, with his wife Mika. Daigo’s family used to run a small coffee shop. His father ran away with the waitress when Daigo was very young, and his mother raised him by herself. His mother died two years ago, and left him the house where he grew up. Daigo feels guilty about not having taken better care of his mother. Back home, Daigo finds an advertisement in the newspaper for “assisting departures”. He goes to the interview, uncertain of the job’s nature. He is hired on the spot after only one question (“Will you work hard?”) and being handed an “advance” by his new boss Sasaki. He discovers that the job involves preparing the dead. Daigo reluctantly accepts. He returns to his wife with sukiyaki for a celebration, but he tells her he will be performing some sort of ceremony…