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Review: The Departure

Someone recently recommended that I check out the Metrograph Theater, so today, I made my way over to Canal and Ludlow to catch a screening of The Departure, a new documentary about suicide prevention in Japan.

The film’s subject, Ittetsu Nemoto, a former juvenile delinquent turned Zen priest, works tirelessly to illustrate the value of human life (in the opening scene, for example, he has a small group write down nine things they cherish on scraps of paper and gradually throw them away, to show what they’ll be giving up if they go through with killing themselves)—often at the expense of spending time with his two-year-old son and to the detriment of his own rapidly deteriorating health. It’s a compelling paradox, and director Lana Wilson confronts it head-on, without making excuses; after all, how can this holy man offer sound advice when his behavior is so patently self-destructive?

Unfortunately, while the cinematography is gorgeous, taking full advantage of the natural beauty of Japan’s landscapes, the visual style lacks intimacy. The camera acts as an observer rather than a participant, never directly interacting with the people it photographs, and this distance only calls further attention to the movie’s inherent artifice. Ultimately, though, the universal themes and emotional complexity are enough to compensate for this minor technical shortcoming. I’m not an avid fan of documentaries, but The Departure was well worth the price of admission.

[Originally written October 13, 2017.]

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