Japanese cinema has always been fascinating while handling the family dynamics. Even the most mundane aspects of their relations share deep insights on life and other aspects. Similarly, ‘Our Departures’ directed by Yasuhiro Yoshida weaves an intricate drama based on the sense of connection.

Our Departures” is screening at the Toronto Japanese Film Festival

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Akira is a 20-something naïve woman who has been married with Shunhei for a while. After his unexpected death, she has no other option due to financial problems, but to move to his native town. She decides to stay at his father’s place, where he grew up. As a result, she comes along with her step-son Shunya on the parent’s doorstep. Shunya instantly recognizes his grandfather. He was the driver of the train that brought them there. Later, while having dinner, Shunhei’s mother seems concerned about whether Akira would fit in this environment and eventually be able to raise the kid. But she stays adamant about taking care of him, which is why she decides to find a job in the area.

While picking up Shunya from his school, Akira sees his deep interest in trains just by his enthusiasm while speaking about them. So, she decides to take on the job of a train-driver without having any clue of what’s necessary. She is growing up towards becoming a mature and dependable parent. Similarly, Shunya is trying to fit in with a different environment. He seems lost, probably because he can’t get over his father’s death. While dealing with grief silently, he gets teased for being an outsider in his class. Before his father’s death, they both used to look at trains which created his fascination.His journey is more inward of accepting the situation, leading towards his eventual growth.

Meanwhile, Akira gets selected for the driver’s job but struggles to cope with it. Her immaturity often leads her to disagreements at her work. She can’t handle the pressure. Besides, a painful memory from her time with Shunhei keeps recurring in her mind. So, that makes her difficult to focus on her job.  But she keeps up with a spirit of hoping for her son’s happiness. In a way, that is her own coming-of-age journey.

Shunhei, who left the town to have a career as an illustrator, had a tumultuous past with his parents, especially the father. He didn’t want to be a train-driver like his father even if he shared the same interests. For the same reason, the father gets delighted to see Shunya’s interest in the trains. That’s what connects these different generations with one another. That’s what connects them with someone like Akira who didn’t have blood-relation with them. So, the train comes as a recurring motif here where every departure has a certain meaning. A sense of connection is found between these characters. Thus the metaphor is quite apparent throughout the film.

The peaceful flow that is maintained throughout the film works for the better of narration. But there’s hardly anything new about the directing approach. While connecting these different characters, some of their arcs even feel forced with the overtly dramatic approach at times. Even if the cinematography is pleasing to the eyes, some of the scenes drag longer than necessary. Speaking about the performances, there’s very little that is exceptional in this film. Jun Kunimara stands out as the grandfather who’s trying to connect with the next generation of their household.

Even if ‘Our Departures’ succeeds in bringing out the heart of their situation, it often dwells on the melodramatic notes. The use of music feels unnecessary at times. It takes out the genuity from those moments, which would have worked just the same without it.  Some of the moments feel unnecessarily added only to add make us emotionally involved. With reliable acting performances, the filmscould have easily worked without any kind of manipulation. So, even with all the sweetness filled in it, the film often feels flat because of the overused techniques.

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