Review: Our Departures

As a Canadian film acquaintance put it, Our Departures is a classic Shochiku release: sentimental, not too dramatic, and warmly funny in spots. It’s also about the importance of family, even if the family in question is unconventional, but, then, that seems to be the point. Jun Kunimura plays Setsuo, a veteran train driver in rural Kagoshima who is set to retire, much to the chagrin of his superiors, who, due to depopulation, don’t think they can find a replacement soon enough. Setsuo, a widower, lives alone in that kind of stoical self-sufficiency real men in Japanese films tend to manifest. One day, a young woman, Akira (Kasumi Arimura) and an elementary school-age boy, Shunya, show up on Setsuo’s doorstep. They turn out to be his estranged son’s second wife and son, who have come from Tokyo to inform Setsuo that his son died suddenly. Apparently, Akira tried to call many times but Setsuo has a habit of not listening to his old-fashioned message machine.

There isn’t much that’s new in Yasuhiro Yoshida’s direction, and the story is emphatic in its boiler plate development, even if the contours of the story sometimes feel forced. (People tend to die too conveniently) Setsuo’s instant family has nowhere to go since being evicted from their Tokyo apartment and so set up house with him and his ghosts. Preternaturally unfazable, Setsuo reacts with neither excitement nor irritation to the arrangement, while Akira becomes increasingly disillusioned with regard to her father-in-law’s lack of regret in causing his son to leave some years ago. Apparently, the son didn’t want to become a train driver like his father and wanted to get as far away from Kyushu as possible, and they never spoke in the meantime. Shunya, however, loves trains, and Setsuo is shocked to learn that he inherited that love from his father, who, according to Akira, was thinking of moving back to Kyushu before he died.

Probably the most radical aspect of the story is Akira’s determination to raise Shunya, who is the product of her late husband’s first marriage, on her own, which is something you don’t see in your average Shochiku family drama, but in a sense that compulsion gives her a reason to become a train driver herself, which is central to the movie’s reason for existence since Our Departures is a tie-up with the local train line depicted. And in that regard, the movie, while overlong and underpopulated (Arimura isn’t a seasoned enough actor to bear the bulk of the screen time), is thoroughly decent in its depiction of train work and culture, not to mention its seemingly effortless ability to evince tears. The best way to approach Our Departures is knowing exactly what to expect. If you do and you like this sort of thing, it’s practically a masterpiece. 

In Japanese. Now playing in Tokyo at Shinjuku Picadilly (03-5367-1144), Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Marunouchi Toei (03-3535-4741), Ikebukuro Humax Cinemas (03-5979-1660).

Our Departures home page in Japanese.

photo (c) 2018 Kazokuiro Film Partners

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