“Okuribito” (“Departures”), a film directed by Mr. Yojiro Takita, has won the Oscar for best foreign-language film, and “Tsumiki no Ie (The House of Small Cubes),” directed by Mr. Kunio Kato, has won the Oscar for best animated short film at the 81st Annual Academy Awards ceremony, marking the first time that two Japanese films have won Oscars in the same year.
The awards should provide encouragement to everyone working in the Japanese film industry and those considering such a career. We wish to congratulate Mr. Takita, Mr. Kato and other participants in the films’ production.
“Departures,” set in northern Japan, is about an unemployed cellist who lands a job as an apprentice undertaker whose job is to prepare bodies and place them into coffins. “The House of Small Cubes,” a delicately crafted 12-minute animated film, is set in the future and portrays an old man who encounters memories of his childhood and family as he builds a new house, block by block, on top of his old one, which is flooding from a rising sea level. Its Japanese title means “a house made of blocks.”
Other films nominated for best foreign film, covered weighty issues such as terrorism, war and immigration. In contrast, “Departures,” whose Japanese title refers to a person who sees off the dead to the other world, approaches every-day attitudes to life and death with some humor. The movie’s depiction of the strong psychological and spiritual link between the living and the dead in Japanese culture may have been a refreshing and philosophical alternative for the Academy members.
The two Japanese films are testimony to the fact that the Japanese do make films whose appeal can transcend national borders. They also are a reminder that Japan should seriously consider enhancing its role as a beacon of contemporary art and culture. The government and the movie industry need to create an environment where talented filmmakers are nurtured and their films made easily accessible. In many parts of Japan, it is hard enough for people to find a local movie theater showing big production movies, let alone low budget indie films.
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