Departures won this year's Academy Award for best foreign film. From Japan, the film tells the story of Masahiro, a young cellist with a Tokyo-based orchestra. When the orchestra is dissolved, he reluctantly gives up his dream of being a professional musician and returns to the small town in which he was raised. There, he stumbles into a job ceremonial preparing dead bodies for funerals. Masahiro finds he has a gift for the work and that he takes a comfort in being able to guide people peacefully and properly through their most difficult times.
The film is at times hysterical, at times gut-wrenching, but it is always full of so much life and love and beauty. The set-up allows for several scenes in which we are given a window into people's lives at their darkest hours. And the director reminds us that some of us handle grief and sorrow by sinking to our lowest behavior, some of us handle it by rising to our best, and a rare special few among us, like Masahiro, are able to take those who are lost and aimless in the midst of grief and bring them back to themselves.
I can't recommend this film enough. Even though its subject is death, it is as full of life as any film I have seen. It's a prime example of the strange dichotomy that sometimes the greatest beauty lies in the darkest corners of our existence.