The 80-minutes documentary by American filmmaker Ian Thomas Ash shows the daily routine of Dr. Kaoru Konta and her team of nurses as they provide hospice care to their elderly patients.
The director starts without any hesitation. We are thrown into a situation where the nurses pay a visit to a dying woman. Uncommented and with a silent distance, the camera focuses on the relationship between patients and nurse. In the tradition of Kazuo Hara (“Sennan Asbestos Disaster”, 2017) and his observational style, Ash leaves us completely alone with his images. Long shots support the meditative and calm spirit that the nurses radiate during their work.
“Sending Off” operates on two different levels. First, it satisfies the curiosity of the foreigner viewer, who is confronted with the widely unknown customs of the Japanese people in the field of elderly care and burial habits. Second, the movie takes away the fear of death. By showing the responsible and reasonable grief of the relatives, which could be misunderstood as too rational, we get to know that the Japanese have a fearless approach towards death. In the coffin ceremony, every family member purifies the body of the deceased. They literally “Sending them off” to another level of existence beyond our earthly perception. The nurses accompany the family on different stages.
Ash is able to present the various tasks that the team has to overcome. Starting from medical advisory to emotional support and also financial planning. The relationship between the nurses and the families deepens in the course of the movie. This energy transfers to the screen and onto the viewer. Of course, the documentary is emotionally charged. But not in a depressing way. It makes us question our own attitude towards death and aging.
Ian Thomas Ash, who did several documentaries about the children living in the Fukushima Area (“Grey Zone” 2012, “A2-B-C” 2013), adds another entry to his focus on dying in Japan and follows up on his 2014 documentary “-1287”.
The raw images can be disturbing and shocking. In the end, it leaves us with a moving and positive vibe. In 2019, “Sending Off” won the Docs Award at Nippon Connection.