Film Review: The Departure
“I want to die.” “I feel like my life has no meaning.” “I can’t survive alone anymore.” “I should just disappear.” These are the kinds of messages that Tokyo priest Ittestsu Nemoto receives regularly. A former raver and screw-up whose life changed years ago when he answered a newspaper ad looking for a monk, Nemoto has devoted his life to helping suicidal, troubled souls find reasons to go on living. One of his key efforts is a regular retreat called “The Departure” where people can experience the emotional toll of death as a way of understanding the level of loss that it entails. Nemoto’s startling compassion and dedication to his cause is not without its own toll, however; although he’s just in his mid-40s, he’s already suffered one heart attack and seems to be on the verge of another, and his doctors are convinced that the stress of his job has something to do with it. But what should this man do? Each unanswered call could be one more person on the edge who desperately needs his help.
Director Lana Wilson’s remarkable, beautifully shot documentary takes this potentially depressing subject and turns it into something surprisingly lyrical. It’s a difficult needle to thread: Even as we watch Nemoto go through his day, dealing with people who have reached the end of their rope while also confronting his own mortality, we also need to understand the wonder and beauty that he still sees in life. This is a film that is clear-eyed about human frailty and sadness, but also deeply in love with the very nature of our existence