(For more stories from the Oscars, click [ID:nN20540799])
LOS ANGELES Feb 22 The Japanese movie
"Departures", about an out-of-work cellist who takes a job as an
undertaker preparing corpses for cremation, was the surprise
winner of the Oscar for best foreign language film on Sunday.
The movie was directed by Yojiro Takita and stars Masahiro
Motoki as a musician who loses his job when his orchestra folds.
It was an upset win, after the Israeli animated documentary
"Waltz with Bashir" was widely tipped to take the honor. A second
Japanese movie won an Oscar for best animated short film.
The award for best picture and a raft of other Oscars went to
rags-to-riches romance "Slumdog Millionaire," directed by Briton
Danny Boyle. [ID:nN22321218]
In "Departures", Motoki's unemployed character sells his
expensive cello and moves with his wife to the snowy northern
town where he grew up, in an attempt to start a new life.
Answering a mysterious job ad for someone to "help with
journeys" lands him a post as an apprentice mortician, something
he feels obliged to hide from his wife.
To his surprise, he discovers that he has an aptitude for the
job, which teaches him about life and death.
"Japanese people tend to avoid the topic of death and treat
it as taboo," Takita told reporters. "I was uncertain and worried
about how this movie would be released and whether people would
Unlike their counterparts in many countries, Japan's
"noukanshi" morticians perform cleansing and beautifying services
in the presence of the bereaved family, in a ritual that combines
an atmosphere of sympathy and reverence with a magician's sleight
The initial idea for the film came from lead actor Motoki,
but it took 10 years to reach fruition, becoming a labour of love
for cast and staff who did not expect a box office hit, said
Japan-based film critic Mark Schilling, an old friend of the
"It's a great audience film," he said. "It's got comedy, it's
got emotions. It's dealing with something that everybody has to
deal with, but in an unusual and interesting way."
Motoki spent months learning to play the cello and rehearsing
funeral rites until he could perform them like a professional,
while Takita also attended a number of funeral rituals to gain an
understanding of how families react. (For a Jan. 30 interview
with the director, click [ID:nT179956])
"Departures", already a hit in Japan, is scheduled for
limited release in the United States in May, with screenings
planned in nearly 30 other countries.
Another Japanese film, "Tsumiki no Ie", or La Maison en
Petits Cubes, won the Oscar for the best animated short film.
The 12-minute film, directed by Kunio Kato, portrays the life
of an old man who battles floods caused by global warming.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in LOS ANGELES and Isabel
Reynolds and Yoko Kubota in TOKYO; Editing by Dean Goodman and