Building New Connections in a Transition

Departures, a film by Yojiro Takita that won an Oscar for best foreign language film, is not only a touching  film about life and love, but also about employee engagement.

Synopsis (from the movie website)

Academy Award® Winner for Best Foreign Language Film of the year, “Departures” is a delightful and sensitive journey into the heartland of Japan and an astonishingly beautiful look at a sacred part of Japan’s cultural heritage.

A premiere symphony orchestra in Tokyo disbands, leaving Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) suddenly unemployed.  Suffering from an innate sense that he is a mediocre musician, he faces up to the fact that not everyone who has devoted their life to music can become a top artist. With wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) in tow, he moves back to his home town in the northeastern prefecture of Yamagata.  They move into the crumbling remains of his mother’s house, which doubled as the local pub. 

Spotting a Help Wanted ad featuring the word “departures,” he is excited about the prospect of trying a new career in the travel industry.  He arrives for the interview, curiously eyeing the coffins lining the back wall of the office.  The company owner, Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki), hires him on the spot, with only a cursory glance at his resume. Daigo finally ventures to ask what is involved, exactly, and is stunned to learn what he has gotten himself into: the ceremonial “encoffination” of corpses prior to cremation.  Sasaki urges him to take the job, proffering large amounts of cash.  He’s getting older, and needs someone to carry on the tradition.

In desperate straits, Daigo overcomes his initial trepidation and begins to travel around Hirano with Sasaki. Sasaki is comically matter-of-fact but firm in his directives and the contention that they are providing an important service to their community.   Some cases are markedly traditional, featuring beatific family members in time-honored transition.  Others highlight family dramas fraught with inevitable collisions, eased into unexpected conclusion.  True to Sasaki’s expectations, Daigo develops a deep respect for life in all its variations, and a profound empathy for people trying to make peace with the finality of death.

Employee Engagement

As you watch this film you will notice a person who loses something important to him; a man that is in transition.  He is challenged by his new situation and surroundings, but he develops connections along the way.  Connections are a significant part of employee engagement.  On first glance we may not like or even be passionate regarding our work, but finding meaning and connections in our efforts can change that perspective. 

Watch the trailer to see what I mean.  If you find it intriguing, watch the entire film. 

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