Tuesday, October 10, 2017

In Lana Wilson's THE DEPARTURE we meet a one-man suicide prevention center who also makes house calls

The documentary begins in what looks like a club where our hero is dancing up a storm. Then we see him on a motorbike heading out to the countryside and... home. His? Whose? Now he's praying and writing and dressing like... a monk? Yes. Or maybe a teacher. Or both. Soon he is saying to a group of students, "Welcome to The Departure," and training the class regarding what it is like to die. This exercise is a marvelous one, at the end of which, "This is death," he tells the class. Then he's farming (rice, maybe?), after which he's back home with his... wife, child and mother?

All the above questions or surmises will be answered or borne out in the course of an 87-minute documentary titled THE DEPARTURE, directed and co-written (with David Teague) by Lana Wilson (of After Tiller), shown at right. Ittetsu Nemoto, we soon learn, has gone from being a Japanese punk rocker leading a band to near-death to a fellow who, when his mother notices a want-ad for a priest (yes!), she encourages him to apply. He does, and the rest, as they say, is both history and a little mystery. Nemoto turns out to be a one-man suicide prevention center, and he also makes house calls!

For all the good that our guy may be doing in terms of his students (this, it seems to me, is called into question, perhaps unintentionally, by the film as it goes along), it is soon clear that Mr. Nemoto, below, has not at all left behind the self-destructive habits that almost killed him in late adolescence.

"There has to be a meaning in life," someone -- I think it was one of those students -- notes during the course of this doc. As a response, "The river has no meaning," Nemoto reminds them. Yeah? Tell that to the fish who live it in or the folk who drink from it. And while our priest's help and advice to his would-be suicides does appear of some encouragement to those disciples (below), it also seems awfully generalized and non-specific. And even when it is specific -- "Think what your suicide would do to your children!" -- at most this seems ultra-obvious, standard stuff. But then, I may be approaching all this from a westernized standpoint; my understanding of eastern cultures is clearly limited.

Still, I do find it odd that a documentary that begins so well, with so much surprise and seeming importance, would dwindle down to a meandering, "whatever" kind of journey of would-be profundity that eventually simply stops rather than actually concluding. One wonders, given Nemoto's doctor's prognosis (which we are privy to in the course of the film), if this unusual Buddhist priest/monk is even still alive today.

From Matson Films, The Departure opens this Friday, October 13, in New York City at the Metrograph theater, and on Friday, October 20 in the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Monica Film Center. In the weeks to come, the documentary will open in another 20 cities across the country. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates and theaters.

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