送り人 (Okuri-bito or Assistant for Traveler's Departure)

Directed by Yojiro Takida

 

A cellist Daigo (Dai-chan) lost his job because his orchestra was disbanded. The position of classical musician is quite difficult to get. He knew the limit of his talent, so he decided to give up the profession and go back to his home town in Yamagata, where his mother left him an old house. His wife Mika supported his decision.

The old house was used as cafe once. His mother and father operated the small cafe but one day his father had run off with a waitress who was working at the cafe. Daigo was 6 years old then. Ever since his mother brought him up as a single mother. The mother died years ago while he was studying abroad. He couldn't see her at her deathbed. 

Daigo's father was a classic lover and it was he who encouraged Daigo to play cello. Daigo does not know where his father is, what is doing now. He doesn't remember even his father' face. Daigo never forgive his father, who abandoned his family.

In Yamagata Daigo started to find job. He found an ad on newspaper, Help Wanted - an assistant for traveler's departure - NK agency. He believed it was travel agent and visited the company. The company's president (though the office has only one employee a woman secretary) accepted him at once. The president (Shacho) offered him 500,000 yen per month saying he would pay every day basis if Daigo wants. Actually he paid him 20,000 yen that day without any work.

The job as Okuri-bito or nokanshi, was coffining (place a corpse into coffin). Daigo refused to do such kind of job. He has never seen real dead body in his life. Even his mother's, he hasn't seen. How could he do that job. Modern people know nothing about real death. He and his wife were scared even when they thought a fish (octopus) which Mika bought for dinner was still alive. 

But the job has started and the first job exceptionally tough one. An old lady living alone died presumably two weeks ago. It was a great shock for Daigo. 

After facing Thanatos he needed to touch his wife's body desperately - he wanted to feel real, living flesh.

He couldn't tell his wife Mika what is he doing but anyway his experience continues;

*Death of housewife
The husband was angry because Daigo and Shacho's arrival was five minutes late. "You are earning from the dead. Then respect the dead." He was furious. Shacho apologized sincerely and he started the make-up the deceased.
"Is there any lipstick which the deceased used daily?" Shacho asked the family.
"What?" puzzled the husband. But the daughter understood at once and brought him her mother's favorite lipstick.

Before closing the coffin, the husband looked his wife closely and cried, probably for the first time after her death.

Daigo and Shacho were about to leave the husband stopped them. He gave them some funeral sweets and apologized his rudeness, saying that "I have never seen her so beautiful in my life. Thank you very much."

 

*Death of  she-man
Daigo tried for the first time to clean the girl's corpse according to Shacho's instructions. While cleaning the lower part of the body he found something, a surprise. "She has it" Daigo  whispered Shacho. Shacho changed Daigo, nodded, and said the family.
"We have two make-up styles. One for woman, and one for man. Which one do you prefer?"
The family members knew what he meant and said with sigh.
"If HE wanted to be so, OK. Do female make-up."

 

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Meanwhile Daigo's wife Mika found a video which Daigo played a model of corpse. It was instruction video for professionals - how to clean the body, how to fill the cotton, how to shave the face, etc. She was upset.

"I followed your decision all the time. But not this. This is too much. This is shameful!"

"Why shameful? Everyone dies, You die, I die. Nobody escape death."

"If you don't stop this I will go back to my parent's." Mika left him.

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*Death of teenage girl
Daigo completed make-up of the girl. The mother shouted.

"No, this is not my girl. This is not she. Look at this picture, this is she. She had lovely face, with black hair, not such stupid dyed blond hair. Do it again!"

The husband blamed his wife.
"Because you didn't discipline her well, that's why our girl became like this."

A boy who was in full of bandage said,
"Hey mister, I think you are also responsible for that."
The father shouted the boy.
"What? How could you talk like that. It is you who killed my girl! You have caused the motor cycle accident. You have survived, but not my girl!"
The boy drooped his head mumbling "I am sorry."
The father lost his temper completely.
"Sorry? How to sorry? How to repair? Tell me? Can you repair your sin by doing such job which that man is performing now?", the father pointed at Daigo. Daigo was shocked.

 

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His old classmate despised him. His wife too. He decided to quit the job.

Shacho knew Daigo's problem. He offered him dinner, blowfish's testis (fugu no shirako), most expensive, special delicacy.
"It's pity we have to kill living creatures. But we have to eat in order to survive. And most unfortunately, they are so delicious."

He recognized Daigo watched the photo on the back wall.
"Yes, my wife. It was really tough to lose partner. Her make-up was my first job."

Daigo took the fish. Yes, it was delicious.

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Daigo's job continues.

 

One day he found someone in house. Mika came back. Mika reported him she was pregnant. She pleaded him to quit the job for their baby's sake, Just then, his mobile rang. "What? Oh, Yes, I see. I will come immediately."

Mika looked Daigo with blaming eyes. Daigo said,
"The owner lady of our sento (public bath) died."

Mika and Daigo used the sento daily. Daigo knew the lady from his childhood.
Operating sento is hard work and her son (Daigo's old classmate) tried to persuade her selling the sento but she refused. She knew her customers needed her sento badly because there is no alternative sento around there. for example, an old man who was regular customer for 50 years.

Daigo is doing her make-up and Mika watched his job for the first time. She began to understand something.

Daigo found that the old man who was regular customer of the sento was working at crematory.
 "I saw many people burned here and I began to think that death and life are continuous. This is just a gate for the continuation. I am a gateman." The old man told so.

Daigo and Mika walked the riverbank. Daigo gave Mika a stone saying,
"This is stone letter. In ancient days when people had no alphabet developed they gave someone a stone which expressed his or her feelings best. If you want to tell peaceful mind you give a round smooth stone. If you want to tell something lively you give a stone like this." Daigo showed stone.

"Lovely story. Who told you this story?" Mika asked.

"My father." Daigo replied.

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One day a telegram was delivered. The receiver's name was Daigo's mother. Mika opened the telegram which told Daigo's father's death.

Daigo refused to see his father at first, but went to him after all, with Mika.

His father lived alone at fishing harbor's small room. All his belongings was in a single box. Daigo tried to remember his face from his memory.

 

 

Enjoy the film!

 

 

Maya Gröhn