Daigo, a cellist, is laid off from his orchestra and moves with his wife back to his small hometown where the living is cheaper. Thinking he’s applying for a job at a travel agency he finds he’s being interviewed for work with departures of a more permanent nature – as an undertaker’s assistant.
As the film gradually tries to push toward transcendence, it mostly exposes Takita’s and Koyama’s cloying sentimentality, with the cello-heavy Joe Hisaishi score the worst offender. For all its manipulation, however, Departures is ultimately more blandly comfortable than deeply unsettling.
Kenji Fujishima (Slant)
It operates, from start to finish, in a zone of emotional safety, touching on strong feelings like grief and loss without really engaging them, and wrapping itself in a protective membrane of tastefulness. […] And the movie is so innocuous that you can’t really hate it. There are touching moments, and some well-observed local details and a few interestingly eccentric minor characters. But every turn is signposted so far in advance that you may find yourself wishing for a fast-forward button to confirm your hunches about what’s going to happen. Life is too short to spend two hours waiting for confirmation of what you already knew and didn’t really believe in the first place.
— A. O. Scott (The New York Times)