Departures is better than expected

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90cf/1249472882-departures.jpg The surprise winner of this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Departures, Yojiro Takita's tale of yuppie redemption, is a lot better than expected. When his symphony orchestra goes belly-up, newly unemployed cellist Daigo (the likable Mashahiro Motoki) takes a job as assistant to the local mortician (Tsutomo Yamazaki, terrific). Because of Japan's cultural stigma about working with the dead, Daigo is soon ostracized by friends and even abandoned by his social-climbing wife (Ryoko Hirosue). Despite its frequently overbearing soundtrack and a few too many strained sitcommy gags, particularly in the exposition-heavy first half, the film is ultimately quite touching and, yes, life-affirming. As the formerly callow Daigo learns the tools of his new trade, he finally grows into manhood, even making peace with the father who abandoned him as a boy. Since an American remake is all but inevitable (starring Zach Braff, perhaps?), it's probably a good idea to check out the award-winning original version first. It opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre. ***

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