The only good thing about this Japanese film is its cinematography and some of the music choices—and even then such pleasures are short-lived. Inexplicably the winner of the Best Foreign Film gong at the 2009 Oscars, the film follows a young cellist who, after his orchestra is disbanded, moves with his girlfriend from Tokyo city to the family home in the country left to him by his late mother. He takes a job as an undertaker’s assistant, and tries to keep this secret from his girlfriend.
What could have been an earnest look at Japanese funeral rites—as explored in the opening scene, a flash-forward in which the protagonist successfully prepares a body for cremation—was unfortunately turned into little more than cultural kitsch with a few jokey moments thrown in to appeal to a wider audience than the film should have attempted to target. Making matters worse, clumsy camerawork and some painfully obvious green-screen frequently detract from the story.
Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman’s excellent animated feature about the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, was also in contention for the Oscar that year, but the Academy predictably played it safe and chose something offensive only in its effusive inoffensiveness. Pressed awkwardly between dark comedy and serious character study, the film is filled to the brim with hokum and insincere sentimentality. Depressing as it might be, it’s not hard to see this being remade in the US with a quirky bent and its broad comedy played up for laughs.
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s 1998 film After Life is far more genuine in its exploration of mortality, and a far more rewarding experience over all.