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Contemporary Japanese view of life and death as depicted in the film Departures (Okuribito)
  1. Atsushi Asai1,
  2. Miki Fukuyama1,2,
  3. Yasunori Kobayashi3
  1. 1Department of Bioethics, Kumamoto University Graduate School of Medical Science, Kumamoto, Japan
  2. 2Department of Nursing, School of Health Sciences, School of Medicine, Kumamoto University, Kumamoto, Japan
  3. 3Textbook Division, Elementary and Secondary Education Bureau, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Tokyo, Japan
  1. Correspondence to Professor Atsushi Asai, Department of Bioethics, Kumamoto University Graduate School of Medical Science, Kumamoto, 1-1-1 Honjo, Kumamoto 860-8556, Japan; aasai{at}


Through films, we can see many aspects of a country and its times: culture, morality and religion, and views on life and death. The best films can both entertain audiences and provide viewers with opportunities to think about fundamental human problems. In this article, we use Departures (Okuribito) to examine the contemporary Japanese view of life and death. All sorts of deaths are depicted and each scene provides an insight into the contemporary Japanese view of death. We use the medium of film to consider the issue of death: what death is, the relationship that exists between life and death, and how the impurity and dignity of the dead are recognised by contemporary Japanese people. The ritual of ‘encoffinment’ will also be discussed, and what it suggests and reveals about Japanese views on what happens to a person when they die, and what requirements exist for someone to be able to depart from this world to the afterlife. The view of death depicted in Departures is thought to accept and even hope for a worldview that postulates continuity between life and death, wherein not only the soul but also personal individuality continues on as it existed in life. The rite of encoffinment is required to relieve the family's grief as well as to wipe away the impurity of the dead. The Japanese traditional view that the ‘dead are impure’ seems to die hard. It is also suggested that complicated and ambivalent attitudes towards the dead exist among contemporary Japanese people.

  • Departures (Okuribito)
  • Japan
  • film
  • view of life and death
  • funeral
  • cross-cultural studies
  • medical anthropology

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.