by Chris MaGee
It seems that the phenomenal success of Yojiro Takita's "Departures (Okuribito)" just keeps on going and going. It already picked up top honours at the Montreal World Film Festival and the Yokohama Eigasai, racked up 13 nominations at the Japanese Academy Awards and has been named by the venerable Japanese film journal, Kinema Junpo, as the top film of 2008. Now word comes via Variety Asia Online that Takita's story of an unemployed cellist who returns to his hometown to take a job in a funeral home is one of nine films that have made the short list for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming 81st Annual Academy Awards. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science had to choose from 65 films for this category, and if "Departures" makes the final cut it will be the first time since Yoji Yamada's 2002 film "The Twilight Samurai" that a Japanese film will be nominated in this category.
The eight other films named were: "Revanche" (Austria), "The Necessities of Life" (Canada), "The Class" (France), "The Baader Meinhof Complex" (Germany), "Waltz With Bashir" (Israel), "Tear This Heart Out" (Mexico), "Everlasting Moments" (Sweden), and "3 Monkeys" (Turkey). These nine films will be whittled down to five once the final nominations are announced next Thursday, January 22nd.
Do I think that "Departures" has a shot? To be one of the final five, definitely. The Academy will be enticed by the accolades that the film has garnered, but does it have a chance of actually taking an Oscar home? I doubt it. Laurent Cantet's "The Class" won the Palme d'Or and "Waltz with Bashir" just picked up the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film on Sunday. That's some pretty stiff competition, but of course there's no guarantee that those two will make the final cut either... Although I'd stake my meager savings that they will.
I guess we'll just have to wait until Sunday, February 22nd when the 81st Annual Academy Awards are handed out to see who comes out victorious.