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Films: Departures * * *

(drama. Starring Motoki Masahiro, Hirosue Ryoko, Yamazaki Tsutomu. Directed by Takita Yojiro. cert 12A)

A surprise winner of the Best Foreign Language Film at last year's Oscars, where it triumphed ahead of bookies' favourites The Class and Waltz with Bashir, Departures obviously deserves attention, although in the first half of the movie you may well find yourself wondering whether the Academy members were feeling particularly kind during the last voting season.

During the first 40 minutes or so we establish that Daigo (Motoki Masahiro) is a professional cellist -- good, but not quite good enough to make it to the very top of his profession -- who's obliged to return to his rural hometown of Yamagata when the Tokyo orchestra he's a member of is dissolved. Initially this seems to please his wife Mika (Hirosue Ryoko), but matters change considerably when he's obliged to find a job and accidentally finds himself working for an undertaker, preparing corpses for their 'departure' to the afterlife.

For some strange reason, this occupation renders him an outcast among his old friends and, crucially, Mika, although the Japanese squeamishness about dead bodies will come as a surprise to anyone who grew up with historical accounts of the building of the the Burma railway, the Rape of Nanking and the Pacific campaign.

From the mid-point on, however, Departures finds a tone and rhythm which is rather fetching, as Daigo overcomes his hesitancy about his new profession, tries to deal with his feelings about the father who left home when he was a baby and discovers how important his role is in bringing a dignity to the death of others. It's perhaps obvious at times, but it's well worth a look, although there's no way it should have won the Oscar. HHHII

it might get loud

(documentary. Starring Jimmy Page, The Edge, Jack White. Directed by Davis Guggenheim. cert General)

The director of An Inconvenient Truth, Davis Guggenheim, makes the most of a simple premise whereby he takes three guitarists from different generations, lets them speak about their approach to and feelings towards their chosen instrument then puts them together for a jam.

It may sound like something you'd come across on BBC4 but it's actually very entertaining, with Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page the senior statesman here and accorded due respect from Jack White (whose style in The White Stripes is as blues-based as Page's was) and our own Mr Evans, whose style and approach to music couldn't be more different.

There are some lovely archive moments too, not least when a schoolboy Page tells a TV reporter that if he can't be a professional musician then he'd like to become involved in 'chemical research'. HHHHI - GB


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