Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tiger's Dhammic Movie Review II - Okuribito (おくりびと): Understanding Life Through Death

Summary of the movie plot:

Daigo Kobayashi is a devoted cellist in an orchestra that has just been dissolved and now finds himself without a job. Daigo decides to move back to his old hometown with his wife to look for work and start over. He answers a classified ad entitled "Departures" thinking it is an advertisement for a travel agency only to discover that the job is actually for a "Nokanshi" or "encoffineer," a funeral professional who prepares deceased bodies for burial and entry into the next life. While his wife and others despise the job, Daigo takes a certain pride in his work and begins to perfect the art of "Nokanshi," acting as a gentle gatekeeper between life and death, between the departed and the family of the departed. The film follows his profound and sometimes comical journey with death as he uncovers the wonder, joy and meaning of life and living. Written by Regent Releasing

The meaning of the Japanese word “Okuribito” is “the person that sees / sends (somebody) off”. Well, who is this person that sees somebody off? You might be tempted to think that, hmmm…. “sending somebody off / away”… that must be the person who are dear or very much related to the departed one. Nevertheless, this is not the case as seen in the movie we’ve seen justnow, Departure (Okuribito). Sending off (the departed ones) with dignity becomes the “profession” of Daigo, the “encoffiner”, the main character in the movie.

Even though this movie deals with death and the vocation of "encoffining", it delivers something even more than that. It is about the celebration of the dignity and value of human life. As a matter of fact, we all will come to the door-step of death at a certain point of our lifetime but how do you help grieving family members to pay their last respects to their loved one with dignity and respect?

This man, Daigo brings out the dignity and value of human life reflected via how he handles his encoffining job. Despite of being despised by the people in the movie, and despising the job himself in the beginning, he eventually sees that the whole goal is to help grieving families to say goodbye to their loved one with dignity and respect. Being as an art as well as science, encoffining seems to resemble the beautiful musics played from his cello. Daigo is now nothing less than skillful in pacifying the grieving families who witness the bodies of their loved ones treated with tender affection and displayed in such a beautiful way.

The beautiful and graceful encoffining ritual provides space for reconciliation and acceptance among the family members. It helps them to accept the deceased in a new light, which is often blinded when the the person is still alive. Once in the movie, the deceased husband said this to Daigo’s mentor, Mr Sasaki: “That was… the most beautiful she’s ever been.” The “final product” of the beautiful ritual simply reveals the most intimate elements of the deceased, which galvanises new reconciliation, though it was a bit too late to realise.

What kind of job that you might consider as “dirty” job? The Japanese or rather Asian community has the negative stereotype of the vocation of encoffining as "dirty". Well, in principle, from Buddhist point of view, dirty or not a job is, or, superior or inferior a person’s status is, it has nothing to do with physical measure. As seen in the movie, when the family members finally realise how important encoffining is to help them pay their last respects to their loved ones, and witness the beauty and grace of the ceremony, their stereotypes are broken down. The barrier has been broken down to allow then to see the nobility of this profession. Once, while travelling to the nearby village, the Buddha comes in contact with a Sudda who collects and disposes human defecaments as profession, and upon seeing him immediately jumping into the drain due to being inferior of his own “dirty” and lowly status, the Buddha admonishes him by saying that purity lies in the heart, not your apparent status and profession.

Asians are generally not accustomed to express their love verbally to their loved ones, if you agree with me on this. But, sometimes non-verbal expression could prove to be more powerful than verbal action. Somewhere in the movie, Daigo told this touching story about “Stone Letter” to his wife, Mika: “In the ancient times, before humans invented writing... they searched for the stone that resembled their feelings, and gave it to another person. The person who received the stone, read the other person's feelings by the weight and texture. For example, smooth texture symbolizing a peaceful mind, and rough texture symbolizing a concern for others.” The sensation of “touch” sometimes can become a very powerful medium of communication, and “Okuribito” manages to portray that fairly effectively. After dealing with death on a daily basis, Daigo comes to realise how important his loved ones are in real life, being truly alive right in front of his eyes. This has made him to treasure life and the lives of his loved ones. Be it verbal or non-verbal, so long as there is no regret for not expressing how we feel towards our loved ones while they are still alive.

The real message of the movie, as for me, is this: “Treasure those who are still living and dear to you here and now. Tell them how much you love them while they are still alive. There’s no use at all for you to cry over their funeral, or spend thousands of money for a grand ceremony, just to satisfy one’s ego of being labelled as ‘filial’. Don’t let the encoffiner, if there’s such an encoffiner like Daigo at all, becomes the reconciliator of the gap between you and the deceased, as the tearful regrets are too late to be of any use now.”
So, love those people who are dear to you right now, for being able to love in the present while they are still alive is the most precious gift to them…

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