"Okuribito" ("Departures") was one of the hits of the 2009 Seattle International Film Festival. I heard nothing but raves about it, so obtained the DVD from the city library. I had to wait while hundreds before me enjoyed it.

This is a tale of a contemporary Japanese cellist whose orchestra folds for lack of financing, so he has to find a job. He takes his perpetually sunny wife to his childhood hometown so they can live rent free in his deceased mother's house. As he scans the want ads, he sees one about "Departures" that includes the magic words, "No experience necessary!" Of course, he sets off immediately, thinking it must be a travel agency.

He is hired and has accepted an advance on his pay before they explain that the ad had a typo; he will be helping prepare corpses for their departures to the crematorium. He is horrified but really needs the money, so he avoids telling his wife the exact nature of his work.

To me, the most interesting thing is the cultural difference in the way the deceased are cared for in the Orient. Professional encoffineers do the work that we here in the Occident expect from the mortician: they cleanse the body, fix the hair, shave and apply makeup. Furthermore, this is done in full view of the family, albeit tactfully masked from their watchful eyes with ingenious draping throughout the process!

As I watched this elegant ceremony I was struck by the calming effect and the respectful grace these professionals bring to what could be an emotional gathering as they quietly prepare loved ones for their final farewells. I appreciated the different attitudes they encountered from those widely diverse families. The first scene is hilarious as our neophyte encoffineer encounters a surprise under the masking drapery: the lovely woman he has been preparing turns out to be an entertainer...a drag queen!

We admire the skills this fellow acquires and hope his wife gets over the shock after she discovers what he does for a living. In addition, we learn about stone letters; these add an important and touching element to the story.

The music is delicious. The cello arrangements range from Mozart and Handel to "Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop..." This is in Japanese with terrific English captions. The interview with the director also has captions and I think you will find it educational...I know I did.