Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Departures (Okuribito)" nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar

by Chris MaGee

As of 8:30 this morning Japanese film fans had something to be very proud of. Yojiro Takita's wildly popular and criticially praised film "Departures (Okuribito)" has earned itself a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming 81st Annual Academy Awards. This will be the 12th Oscar nomination for Japan, the last being Yoji Yamada's "The Twilight Samurai" in 2003.

The story of an out of work cellist who returns to his hometwon to take a job at a funeral home has already won a slew of awards both at home and abroad including the Grand Prix des Amériques at the Montreal World Film Festival, Best Film at the Hochi, Mainichi and Nikkan Sports Film Awards as well as being named the top film of 2008 by Japan's most presitigious film journal Kinema Junpo.

No doubt this huge success swayed Academy voters, but "Departures" has some very stiff competition: Uli Edel's "The Baader Meinhof Complex" (Germany), Laurent Cantet's "The Class" (France), Götz Spielmann's "Revanche" (Austria) and Ari Folman's "Waltz with Bashir" (Israel).

As much as I am obviously a huge fan and advocate for Japanese films I would have to say that "Departures" will most likely not end up winning though. Historically Japan has never been a big winner at the Academy Awards despite their many nominations. In the over 80 year history of the Awards Japan has only ever taken home four trophies: Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon" (1951), Teinosuke Kinugasa's "Gate of Hell" (1954) and Hiroshi Inagaki's "Samurai: The Legend of Musashi Miyamoto" (1955) all received honourary Oscars and Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" took home Best Animated Feature Film in 2001. Considering the richness and influence of Japanese cinema it's a bit underwhelming, especially when compared with Italy's thirteen wins or France's twelve.

If I had to bet I would put my money on either the Palm d'Or winning "The Class" or "Waltz with Bashir" which has already taken home awards for Best Animation at the Los Angeles Film Critics Awards, Best Foreign Independent Film at the British Independent Film Awards and Best Foreign Language Film at The Golden Globes. I guess we'll have to wait and see when the Oscars are handed out on February 22nd to find out for sure.

I do have to say that I sincerely hope that this nomination speeds along "Departures" North American DVD release from Regent Releasing.

Agree that "Departures (Okuribito)" won't take home an Oscar? Disagree? Have your say in the comments or in the discussion topic at the Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow Facebook Group.


Marc Saint-Cyr said...

Waltz with Bashir definitely poses the biggest threat, especially since it was kept out of the Best Animated Feature category (not that it really would've stood a chance against Wall-E).

Bob Turnbull said...

"The Class" won Cannes though didn't it? I think you're right that Waltz has the best chance, but I don't think I've heard a bad word about Cantet's "The Class".

Sigh, I haven't seen any of 'em unfortunately.

Chris MaGee said...

My vote would go to Waltz with Bashir, although I, like Bob, have yet to see it...