Departures (12A)

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The Independent Culture

People are already speculating about the 2010 Oscars, so it's a minor scandal that it's taken this long for 2009's Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film to be released in the UK. But don't be deterred by the late arrival of Departures. This heartfelt, unpretentious, slyly funny Japanese film is worth waiting for.

Its hero is a young man (Masahiro Motoki) who, having failed to make it as a cellist in Tokyo, retreats with his wife to his home town, where he replies to a vaguely worded job ad. He guesses that his prospective employer must be a travel agent, but after a one-question interview, he finds himself working in "encoffinment", the ritual washing and dressing of a corpse before its cremation.

And there aren't many more surprises. The hero's move from the city to the sticks recalls any number of cosy Sunday evening TV cocoa-accompaniments, from Doc Martin to Monarch of the Glen, and the encoffinment shown in the first scenes is so elegant and dignified that it's only a matter of time before everyone in the film comes to value the hero's unorthodox new profession. But if Departures is, at bottom, a sentimental tear-jerker, you'll have to be more cynical than I am to get through it without your tears being jerked.