Just a Minute With: Japan's Oscar-winning Yojiro Takita

Thu May 28, 2009 6:03am EDT
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By Iain Blair

LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - "Departures," the Japanese winner of the 2008 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, deals with job loss and death -- albeit in a sly and humorous fashion.

Directed by Yojiro Takita, it tells the story of Daigo (Masahiro Motoki), a young cellist who suddenly loses his job when his symphony orchestra in Tokyo is disbanded.

So, Motoki moves back to his small home town with wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) and applies for a local job in tourism, only to find the company specializes in encoffinments, the ancient Japanese art of preparing a corpse for cremation.

Takita talked to Reuters about making the film, which opens in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago on Friday, followed by a national rollout.

Q: What sort of film did you set out to make?

A: "When you deal with death as a theme it can be a very delicate matter, and it's true I was very intrigued by the story of an encoffiner, especially as at my age the specter of death begins to creep up on you. So the biggest challenge was deciding how to tell this tricky story. What really helped was visiting a professional encoffiner and watching them do their tasks. Seeing that, you begin to see something in yourself, and that was the turning point in how I'd shape this film."

Q: Death is increasingly sanitized in the West. Is it the same in Japan?

A: "Even more so. For a long time in Japan, death was looked at as something filthy, and people with occupations associated with death have had to fight prejudice. Even when you have rituals and ceremonies celebrating someone's death, more often than not the body isn't seen as usually people prefer to turn away from the reality of it."   Continued...