Thursday, December 16, 2010

DVD Roundup: Babies and Departures

I didn't intend to watch movies about birth and death, but that's how it turned out.  And both were actually more entertaining than their descriptions would suggest.  Departures won the Oscar for foreign film in 2009.  From Japan, it's a story about a cellist, Daigo, without enough talent to make it his career.  When he loses his job, he and his wife return to his hometown and the house his mother left him.  Daigo searches for work, and finally finds a job assisting a man, with "departures".  The job itself isn't explained for a while, but it pays really well, so he doesn't ask too many questions.  From the movie, it seems that most people in Japan are cremated, so there's not much need for skilled undertakers, but there is still a ceremony like a wake where the family watches as the deceased is respectfully and carefully cleaned and prepared for "casketing" (being put into a casket that is then burned with the body).  However, as in most cultures, working with dead bodies isn't exactly a prestigious career choice, and his wife finally finds out what he does and leaves.  However, Daigo is able to see the beauty in the ceremony as he gets better at it and the families continue to thank him for what he does.  It's a beautiful movie with very compelling characters - Daigo has struggled his whole life with his father's abandonment, and even more with never being the best at anything, and finally, what it means to be a grown-up.  His wife tries hard to be supportive, but can't get past her own ideas about things.  A terrific and thoughtful movie about how people handle death, from respect to distaste and beauty.  4.5/5 lambs - definitely deserved the Oscar!

The second movie focused on the other end of life.  Babies is a documentary following the first year of life of 4 very different babies - one in Namibia, Mongolia, Tokyo, and San Francisco.  The movie has almost no dialogue (no subtitle either for the other countries), but has lots of music that helps give an upbeat tone to the film.  When it was initially released, I remember it being criticized for not being deep, not offering criticism about the different lives of these children.  What I found was that it wasn't a movie about comparing and contrasting the different cultures and criticizing one over the other, but rather showing that a baby is a baby is a baby.  At least for these babies, the first year of their life was fairly similar.  Obviously, when choosing what to put into the film it was easy to pick moments that looked similar - they each had a moment with their cat, some with siblings (talk about bullying!), with their parent being playful, feeding, learning to walk, trying to speak, etc.  And the movie might not be deep by offering critique of how babies can thrive growing up naked in the dirt as well as with baby yoga and swaddling.  But I think it would have been the lesser for trying.  It's a simple look different babies, in all their cutest, tantrums, and loving.  3.5 of 5 stars/lambs


simoncolumb said...

I really want to watch DEPARTURES - but i think its always good when you set up double-film viewings that relate to each other!

Jess said...

Simon - Departures was wonderful. When I first heard that a Japanese movie about undertakers won the Oscar I was shocked, but over time I'm beginning to trust that they pick pretty great movies (The Lives of Others, The Counterfeiters) even if the ones that win aren't the most popular, they're damn good films

Castor said...

Glad you enjoyed Departures Jess. A very beautiful movie indeed and a great look into the traditional ways of Japan. The only thing that was a bit off for me were Daigo's occasional over-the-top mannerisms which didn't really fit with the movie.