おくりびと / "Departures"

I went out with my wife yesterday to opening night of おくりびと ("Okuribito," a.k.a. "Departures"). I would just like to say first that it has been a *very* long time since I found any movie to be so unbelievably moving and deeply impacting as this one. The film is inspiring, humbling and truly beautiful in every sense, and the afterglow from seeing it is a lasting one.

The story is about a young couple named Kobayashi who leave their big city life in Tokyo after the husband, Daigo (本木雅弘 / Motoki Masahiro), loses his job as a professional cellist. Daigo and his wife Mika (広末涼子 / Hirosue Ryoko) return to Daigo's hometown in opulent Yamagata Prefecture where he finds himself taking a job as a the assistant of a funeral director (山崎努 / Yamazaki Tsutomu). At the heart of the movie is an enlightening celebration of the cycles of life and an exploration of the humanity in which each of them is steeped. As with most married couples, there are many ups and downs for Daigo and Mika as they experience their new life. Nothing could have prepared, them, however for the unusually challenging and deeply meaningful experiences that awaited them. What we learn from director 滝田洋二郎 (Takita Yojiro) is that every stage in human life is truly beautiful, even death-- which is but a gateway to the next stage. What gives our lives meaning, Takita teaches us, is people - the people that surround us and become part of our lives give them meaning and beauty, even when we die. Another impression made upon the audience is that the way we die, as well as the people who surround us during our "departure," are an indication of how we lived.

The director's telling of this engaging story is enhanced by the use of subtle, yet rich and expressive symbolism in which the film is enveloped. Every aspect of the characters' actions, the space they occupy, the objects that surround them and even the changing of the seasons were part of a thick canvas that Takita Yojiro used to paint a sincere and revealing picture of his vision for the film. All of this was further beautified by the gorgeous backdrop of Yamagata Prefecture's mountainous and exquisite natural and communal settings. (This really makes me want to visit Yamagata-ken!)

Finally the elements that really drew the film together into such an amazing work of art were the incredible talents of the actors! Motoki and Yamazaki, honestly were pure genius and really demonstrated their great skill in this movie. They were absolutely amazing and convincing to the point that the audience forgets all about their own lives and feels like they've become a part of theirs. All of the actors in this movie did incredible work and did a tremendous job of communicating the depth and scope of the director's vision.

As an aside, for students of Japanese language, it is fascinating to hear the movie's dialogue which was delivered almost entirely in Yamagata-ben. The movie also presents a rare glimpse into one of the most private and sacred aspects of Japanese culture-- "coffining."

I can't say enough about this incredible film, and even if I tried I could never really do it justice. Please go out and see it for yourselves, your lives will be enriched for it!! Just don't forget to bring a handkerchief!

The cast of おくりびと is going out on a roadshow this september - that is what the poster image is announcing.

Link to the official website
Link to the English Language Website


Burger Donuts!!

These are the new "burgers" from Mr. Donut called "MosDo." They aren't really burgers, of course, but donuts that look like burgers! The burger buns are japanese-style sweet bread, the patties are made from chocolate, and the burger condiments are strawberry whip and strawberry sauce; green tea whip and green tea sauce! Get yourself a couple of these burgers, along with a side of "potadoughs," (or "potedo") and an iced coffee and you've got yourself quite a fun and tasty breakfast or snack!
These new offerings from Mr. Donut look so kool! I wish I was in Japan so I could try them, I'm sure they're quite yummy.


Loli Nagato Yuki

Today's featured beauty is 長門有希 (Nagato Yuki), fellow member of the S.O.S. Brigade and companion/protector of 涼宮ハルヒ (Suzumiya Haruhi). Yuki-chan is an artificial human with supernatural powers and is the only actual member of the their school's Literary Club, which of course was hi-jacked by Haruhi in order to obtain a club room and headquarters for the S.O.S. Brigade. Yuki's role on planet Earth is to observe Haruhi and gather information about the evolution of humankind and our potential for autonomy. Now she's here observing my wife and I as well!

Yuki's looking so cute wearing her lolita outfit, complete with her ruffled dress and a teddy bear in her purse. She's here thanks to the craftsmen at Griffon Enterprises and the talent of sculptor 山本雅弘 (Yamamoto Masahiro) who's work also brought us Haruhi herself in her gothloli attire. Masahiro is giving us a rare chance to see Yuki-chan wearing something other than her school uniform which is what she's wearing most of the time when we see her. She is another win for Griffon and Yamamoto-san because of the impressive attention to detail and fine workmanship that went into creating her. IMHO, the craftsmanship of this figure is even better than that of her friend Haruhi in that there are no noticeable production flaws of any kind and the overall impact of her design is simply stunning. I hereby welcome Nagato Yuki as another cherished addition to the family. ^^


Goto Tadamasa's Conversion

Goto Tadamasa is quite infamous in Japan as a boss in the 40,000-strong 山口組 (Yamaguchi-gumi) yakuza syndicate, one of the world's largest organised crime outfits with links to North Korea and operations in many other parts of Asia and in the U.S. as well. He is well-known for his extreme use of violence and aggression that includes activities such as the bulldozing of businesses that fail to pay protection money and the brutal beatings of his victims before the eyes of their families.

In 2001 Goto-san worked as an FBI informant in return for travel to the U.S. where he skipped to the front of the organ-donor waiting list with 700+ members to receive a life-saving liver-transplant at UCLA Medical Centre. Although he reportedly provided information that is available to anyone with an internet connection or the ability to read newspapers, his actions obviously infuriated his superiors.

Last September, Goto Tadamasa made a public spectacle of himself when he threw an extravagant birthday celebration for himself in 静岡県 (Shizuoka) and invited five of Japan's most famous enka singers (細川たかし (Hosokawa Takashi), 小林 旭 (Kobayashi Akira), 松原のぶえ (Matsubara Nobue), 角川博 (Kadokawa Hiroshi) and 中条きよし (Nakajou Kiyoshi)) to participate in a golf tournament and lavish party. This, too, enraged his fellow clan-members and also resulted in the performers' expulsion from the NHK's annual oshougatsu celebration enka concert.

Four weeks ago marked a drastic change in life for the 66-year-old Wakagashira (boss). 08-April is a day that's honoured as the birthday of Buddha in Japan and on that day Goto Tadamasa was ordained as a Tendai Buddhist priest at 成願寺 (Jyoganji Temple) in 中野区 Nakano-ku (a district of Tokyo at the west edge of the city). It's a lifestyle change that's met with skepticism and criticism as well as with praise and understanding. Critics believe the move to be nothing more than an escape route away from the leaders of the Yamaguchi-gumi from which Goto-san has been outcast. Others are more sympathetic to his goals, and see him as a changed man who wishes to make amends for his life of evil and live the rest of his life in service to his fellow man. It's too soon to determine his true motives, of course.

What do YOU think?

Thanks to Jake Adelstein, former crime reporter for the Yomiuri Shimbun, for many of the details in this post.