CHAMPAIGN – Japanese director Yojiro Takita – the first filmmaker in the 12th annual Roger Ebert's Film Festival to receive a standing ovation – enjoyed watching the festival-goers watch his movie on Friday afternoon at the Virginia Theatre.
Through a translator, Takita later said he said, "Yes," every time the audience laughed or wept while watching "Departures."
He must have uttered "yes" many times during the 130-minute screening.
"Departures," which won the Oscar for best foreign-language film in 2008, is what University of Wisconsin film Professor David Bordwell described as an "unabashedly emotional" movie, with the main theme being death.
It tells the story of a young cellist who, after his Tokyo orchestra folds, returns to his hometown and unwittingly takes a job as an apprentice in the trade of "encoffinment" – the ritual practice of preparing a body for cremation – after answering a newspaper want ad for "departures."
He and his wife had thought the ad was placed by a travel agency.
Needing money, Daigo (Masahiro Motoki) reluctantly takes the job, working with a quiet and slightly gruff older man named Mr. Sasaki. After his wife, Mika (Ryoko Hirosue), discovers the nature of her husband's job, she leaves him. Some of his friends shun him as well.
After "Departures," Ebert screened the 1929 silent film "Man with a Movie Camera," written and directed by Dziga Vertov. The three-man Alloy Orchestra, a tradition at Ebertfest, performed its original score on electronic synthesizers and its "rack of junk."
The third non-narrative film in this year's Ebertfest, "Man with a Movie Camera" unfolds at a frenzied pace, with numerous jump cuts, as it depicts street scenes, assembly lines and track and field events. Vertov shot the movie in Kiev and Odessa, Ukraine, and Moscow; the pace and atmosphere seem as hurried as it is today in many cities. Ebert wrote that the movie is basically about making a movie.
The last film shown Friday was "Synecdoche, New York," written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, who has been in Champaign since Wednesday and who was to appear on stage after the screening. The festival continues today and ends Sunday.
See more in Saturday's News-Gazette.