The Funeral (1984)

JUZO ITAMI

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5

Original Title: Osôshiki

, 1984. , . Screenplay by Jûzô Itami. Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

Juzo Itami, already established as an actor in the Japanese film industry, made his feature directorial debut with this deeply funny and equally deeply felt film about a family dealing with death. Despite having had no warnings of ill health, an aged patriarch keels over of a heart attack and, after a short stay in the hospital, passes away. His daughter Chizuko () and son-in-law Wabisuke () are shooting a cleverly designed commercial when they hear the news, quickly making their way back to the country seat where they are tasked by Chizuko’s mother with hosting the funeral.

Not fully versed in the tightly controlled rituals involved in hosting the three-day long affair, the couple bone up on funeral traditions by watching a cheekily amusing how-to videocassette before the relatives arrive. The attendees shed tears and share stories, the priest (played by legendary Ozu collaborator ), who came at a very high price, shows up in a limo, Wabisuke’s mistress also comes for a dramatic and productive afternoon in the woods, and Chizuko’s wealthy uncle comes to make pronouncements about how everything should be done while holding tightly to his purse strings.

Told in a spontaneous but never rambling episodic style, the film shows Itami’s talent for not just helming an arresting narrative with irresistible characters, but displays an artist who is capable of creating an entire world with rich, diverse life happening within it; that this is displayed, ironically, through the subject of death is not lost on the filmmaker, whose characters hold on to their mortal coil with loud, savouring enjoyment of their food and recklessly sweaty outdoor sex. The laughs come naturally through the many odd and unpredictable experiences that arise from earnest people trying to pull off the perfect, solemn ceremony, but Itami doesn’t ridicule their vulnerability either, when it comes time for characters to express their genuine sorrow over their loss it is treated with sympathy and respect.

A huge success in Japan when first released, it would lead to the film that put Itami on the map internationally, Tampopo, and a lauded career of eight more features before his untimely death in 1997.

Toronto International Film Festival: 1985

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