“Departures” is an award-winning cinematic masterpiece that depicts an intricate postmortem ceremony in Japan where, before the eyes of the deceased’s family, the body is elegantly washed, made up, and “encoffined. ” At the heart of the film is Daigo’s journey through life and how his reluctant acceptance of an enconffiner position leads to life altering self-discovery, understanding, and resolution. Character integrity is necessary in funeral service so that one’s words and actions, both in personal and professional life, are consistent with the values and beliefs promoted in their work.
This paper will explore Daigo’s character development and communication behaviours to ascertain whether or not he has the ability to provide effective service during the encoffinment ritual. Wolfelt identifies four characteristics of a successful funeral service professional; empathy, respect, warmth and caring, and genuineness. It is not until funeral professionals achieve self-understanding and fulfillment in their own lives, that they will have the ability to truly understand and appreciate the people they set out to help.
Initially in the film, Daigo struggles to cope with life’s challenges. First, Daigo reluctantly walks away from his dream of becoming a professional cellist. With no income, Daigo, out of desperation, accepts a well-paying enconfinment position. Not only does Daigo have his own personal revulsion and ingrained disgust about working with the dead, he is also faced with the opposition of his wife and friends who view encoffinment as being spiritually unclean, a common social stigma in Japanese culture.
Another underlying theme in the film is Daigo’s embitterment towards his father who abandoned him as a child. Daigo lacks intrapersonal understanding as he is left confused about his role in life, and is unable to accept his father’s abandonment. Daigo is faced with a life altering decision, which is depicted in the scene where Daigo is sitting alone at the end of the corridor symbolizing a “fork in the road”. There are two paths in life he can choose from. Does Daigo turn right and leave his new job?
Or should he turn back and continue with the job he slowly learns to understand the significance of? The turning point in the movie is when Daigo decides to continue on the path of being an encoffiner. Daigo’s initial revulsion for the task progressively gives way as he experiences the elegance, compassion, and dignity of the death rituals. Being a gatekeeper between life and death, Daigo gains a greater appreciation for life, and the love and relationships shared between generations.
The job, which Daigo’s wife and friends eventually come to accept and respect, is unexpectedly his true calling. In addition, Daigo is able to seek comfort and solace in his spare time by playing his cello. Near the end of the film, while Daigo is performing the encoffinment procedure on his father, he notices a “stone letter” gripped in his father’s hands. This moment in the movie is symbolic of Daigo’s father’s love for his son. Daigo’s emotional reconciliation with his father releases all the repressed memories he has of him.
Daigo is touched and passes the stone to the baby his wife is pregnant with. Daigo is seen smiling in this scene, leaving the viewers with an overall feeling that his emotional hurdles, initially introduced in the film, have now been leapt over. Overall, the internal struggles Daigo experiences dissipate, as he is better able to authenticate his character through self-growth and reconciliation. He develops into a stronger, honest man with a genuine empathetic heart, all of which are intrapersonal attributes necessary for effective funeral service professionals.
As Daigo develops an affinity for his new position of enconffiner, he begins to display the four helping characteristics identified by Wolfelt through interpersonal communication. Non-verbal communication is the main channel used in this film to communicate feelings and attitudes toward others. The first call Daigo goes on is to pick up a decomposing body. By analyzing Daigo’s kinesics and paralanguage, through the panicked look in his face and gasps, it is apparent that he is not yet comfortable with the duties of an encoffiner. However, with time, Daigo starts to understand the significance of the job nd develops an affinity for it. The scenes where Daigo is shown preparing a beloved grandmother, a high school girl killed in a motorcycle accident, and a transsexual son, are evident of this newly developed affinity. The scenes depict Daigo performing the rituals in a graceful and intricate manner. With hepatics and handling the deceased gently, a level of respect is shown, which the family present can sense. Daigo’s physical appearance is always clean, well-kept and professional, and his posture is always relaxed as he would position himself beside the body, kneeling inwards.
The ceremonial rituals were performed in silence, and incense is always present to respect Japanese culture and funeral rituals. Daigo’s facial expressions always matched the emotional tone of the situation, communicating empathy and warmth. Hepatics and proxemics are also displayed in the scenes where Daigo is approached by family members who come to show their gratitude. In Japan, it is customary to show your respect by keeping a natural distance and bowing. Daigo would do just that.
Overall, it is a combination of these non-verbal communication skills which exudes Daigo’s genuine compassion, and demonstrates to the family his trustworthiness, responsiveness, liking, and power. Active listening through hearing, attending, understanding, responding, and remembering is of paramount importance in funeral service. At the beginning of the movie, Daigo’s ability to listen actively is questionable. His preoccupation with personal concerns can result in a form of ineffective listening known as pseudo listening. However, as Daigo’s character develops, he learns to cope with his personal struggles.
As a result, Daigo is able to provide families his undivided attention through attending and empathetic listening. Wolfelt identifies three qualities of an effective listener; desire, commitment, and patience. Daigo’s desire and commitment is made apparent when his wife asks him to quit his job as an encoffiner, and he refuses. The last scene in the movie is also evident of Daigo’s commitment to funeral services. When Daigo goes to see his dead father, funeral workers are disrespectfully attempting to place his father in a coffin.
Even with the resentment Daigo has for his father, he steps in and performs the enconffinment ritual, giving his father a dignified “departure”. Daigo’s patience is evident as he performs the ceremonial rituals. He takes his time to prepare the dead in a respectful manner. In Japanese culture, the encoffinment rituals are performed by professionals who keep silent throughout the process. Therefore, verbal responding skills are not valid. Rather, simple acknowledgement is done with subtle eye contact and a nod, or a bow.
Throughout the movie, Daigo demonstrates a lack of intrapersonal understanding. However, once he begins working as an encoffiner, he develops a new perspective on life. Through self-growth and fulfillment, Daigo is able to live his life with integrity. His words and actions, both in his personal and professional life, are consistent with the values and beliefs promoted in funeral service work. Overall, his communication skills and his compassionate presence, commitment, empathy, and respect are characteristic qualities which will ensure his success in funeral service.