Someday I’ll write a full essay on the difference between “Kitsch” and “Schlock” and this movie will serve as Exhibit A
Release date: September 13, 2008
Director: Yōjirō Takita
Who should watch this movie: Expats living in Japan. Classical musicians. Folks who have recently lost a loved one. Folks who have ever lost a loved one.
When should you watch this movie: When death feels closer than usual. After attending the funeral of your distant Japanese cousin (this one might be a bit too specific, but if you ever find yourself in that situation, there is truly no better movie to help process).
The sell: Moving back into one’s childhood home after career setback is an experience many Millennials have had, especially in the last couple of years. As such, the start of this film, while challenging and melancholy, is entirely familiar. Watching main character Daigo and his wife attempt a new life in a small town, the audience is met with episodes, feelings, and characters that feel mundane and recognizable. One day, Daigo answers a job posting in the local paper, and there the similarities end. With Daigo, the audience is thrown off the deep end into uncharted emotional territory as he begins work for the undertaker, acting as assistant to mysterious Sasaki, preparing dead bodies for cremation. The gravity of this assignment is slow to dawn on Daigo, who needs the cash, but is ashamed of his occupation. He keeps the truth hidden from his wife, and others in town. As he observes more of the ceremony, however, the importance and emotional weight of death traditions become increasingly apparent. Coming up against stigma and his own childhood trauma, Daigo’s revelation is slow. The triumph of this film is the masterful way in which this understanding is built up gradually and with great care. Through Daigo, we observe families in mourning. Families of all kinds, with every imaginable reaction. The experience is raw, and at times grating, but the film asks us not to look away. Catharsis happens equally slowly, and while there is an emotional climax, it serves more as a release of tension than as gratification or reward. While there are moments that trend towards melodrama, the sincerity of this film is never lost. The genre of “movies about death” is expansive, and this one is just a whisper in the vast expanse of similar themes. And yet, it’s a powerful whisper and one worth listening for.