Filmmaker Interview: Departures’ Yojiro Takita

Film Departures Takita

Filmmaker Yojiro Takita meets press to campaign his film Departures at Regent Entertainment office in Westwood in May 2009. (Cultural News Photo)

Filmmaker Interview:  Departures’ Yojiro Takita

“The audience may feel their death through other’s lives.”

Cultural News, 2009 June Issue

The 2008 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film Departures (Okuribito), directed by Yojiro Takita, now opens nationally. For theater information, check An interview with Mr. Takita is following:

Where did you get the inspiration for this project?

Takita I received the idea for this project from the producer. I know of the job of a “nokanshi” (encoffineer) through reading Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician but as I have never actually been in direct contact with them, there was too little I knew of the job. When I read the script, I felt the content very familiar and close, and though the film will be dealing with death, I felt that the film would definitely become interesting. I think finding the charm in themes that other people do not want to touch, is probably a habit to all directors.

Was there an event in your life that drove you to make this film?

Takita I was interested in the theme all the more because my experience with death was quite limited. Although I participated in ordinary funerals before, I had never seen or thought about what was happening on the other side of the funeral and the people who were involved with this. When I was small, it is true that funerals took place inside each household, and each death was a closed incident. However, realizing what “death” was about is another story. While I was gathering information, I suddenly felt a sense of full comprehension, the presence of “death” right in front of you, just as I felt in my childhood. What existed there was that the family, the relatives, did not despise or detest “death.”

What was it about the idea that resonated and made you feel compelled to spend this time with this story?

Takita All human beings have to face death at one point, but as the same time, they try to turn their eyes away from death. The recognition of this fact may have come up in watching this film, and I feel that the audience may have replaced themselves with one of the characters and tried to touch or feel their death through other people’s lives.

Do you need inspiration to commit to a project, or just a good team of collaborators?

Takita To be able to team with good staff is a major premise and essential. However, nothing can start if there is no inspiration. Whether or not you understand the subject is another matter, but your feelings of attraction towards it is definitely the most important thing of all. I live for such inspirational occasions. A film is made with various elements combining together in perfect harmony. Therefore, a good staff gathers when there is a good inspiration. And, extraordinary power is completed by consuming and growing with the power from these surrounding parties.

What do you consider to be unique and original to this project?

Takita At first, nether the production, distribution or even the release of the film was decided. Because of this, I was dealing purely with the project, without trying to be “too art-house” or “too commercial.” In spite of the adversity, I had much confidence that this project would definitely work.

After you finished the film, how did it change you as a person? What did you learn from this experience?

Takiata I believe I came to face “death” more naturally. I am afraid to die, but not afraid of “death” itself anymore. When I attended funerals for those close to me, I would often have just prayed for the deceased. I found myself touching their faces and trying to confront their death. By touching their skin, I would feel the warmth of the deceased, the warm-hearted life of the person who had cared for me. I came to think that I must tell kids that death exists in everyday life. It is important for us as human beings to witness, that we are given birth with crying, and we die crying.

Looking back on the filming of this movie – what scene stands out the most in your mind and how did that scene touch you?

Takita I like the scene where Masahiro Motoki plays “Ave Maria” on the cello, after eating chicken in the office with Tsutomu Yamazaki and Kimiko Yo. I think the scene was able to capture a moment in which each character had a chance to think back about the themselves in a gracious manner. I believe that their bonds were expressed without words. I also like the scene where Tetsuta  Sugimoto sends off his deceased mother to be burned, but only is able to say “Ma! I’m sorry!” in the back of the crematorium. I felt that it made sense from a man’s pont of view, in term of how a man deals with his mother’s death.

We all deal with the death of our loved ones throughout our lives – the sadness, the mourning and the celebration of our loved one’s life. But the actual prepping of our loved ones for “encoffination” is a process that is often over looked or not seen. What research did you in preparation for this film?

Takita The most important for me was what “encoffining” actually was. The atmosphere and the great sensation that I felt when I had experienced the “encoffinment” backed up my attraction for and confidence in creating this film. The experience also made me realize the wonder and beauty of sending off someone with respect.

I found it interesting that you choose Kundo Koyama as the scribe for this film. He really captured  the beauty and the sensitivity of the story while interjecting moments of humor. Did the script evolve naturally when you first read it or were there many revisions?

Takita The script was not originally in this style. We changed the characters and characters’ feeling towards death. I felt that death was not a dark incident, but a moment infused with humor and grace, so I had changed my view somewhat from the standpoint presented in the original version of the script.

The cello music plays an essential role in the movie, really enhancing the film to another level. What was the direction that you gave Joe Hisaishi when you first met?

Takita We knew from the start that the cello piece would have a major role in the film. We discussed creating music with themes encompassing reconciliation and reproduction. The reason for having the lead play the cello was because of the wide range of pieces that the instrument was able to play.

With the current economic crisis in both the U.S. and throughout the world, many people are losing jobs they have grown comfortable with and accustomed to; now people have to take jobs they never expected they would do. Motoki plays out these emotions and reactions beautifully in concert with his adjustment to the new job. Was this something that came naturally or did you coach him through it?

Takita We had different visions and I believe we both respected each other’s opinions. Masahiro Motoki had to learn the art of encoffinment; he went on to express the beauty of a person, sending off another person, by conducting the act with grace and blessings. He definitely brought it into his own world.

This interview text was provided by Departures’ distributor Regent Releasing.