2017 Hot Docs ‘The Departure’

The Departure (2016) directed by Lana Wilson is a character driven reality drama documenting the life of Ittetsu Nemoto, a Japanese Buddhist priest of the Zen sect, whose ministry is saving his fellow countrymen from suicide in a country where suicide is not only tolerated but accepted as a norm.

I loved the opening shots of juxtaposing Ittetsu Nemoto – a middle-aged man, dancing, riding his motorcycle, strolling along the serene and quiet setting of the temple grounds, being with his young son, against Ittetsu Nemoto -the Buddhist priest, chanting, making notes in his calendar, donning his robes, and conducting his departure workshop on death. The motif of man and priest run through the film as the film documents Nemoto’s competing roles as Buddhist priest and family man.


Watching Nemoto deliver his death workshop to re-orient his students to accept life was such a moving experience and proved meaningful to them. These scenes are some of the most powerful images in the film. The motif of compassion runs through the film and is the thread that holds it together. Wilson beautifully documents Nemoto’s philosophy and meditation on life, his vocation caring for the suicide afflicted and acting as an activist for suicide prevention which we see and learn have exacted a toll on him both physically and emotionally. The film documents his struggles to find a balance between his compassionate work and caring for the needs of his immediate family and his own while confronting and dealing with his heart disease.

On a personal note, the documentary resonated with me on many levels. While I was living in Japan, I was aghast to learn from my adult students that the national government spared no expense to maintain a national hotline for Japanese citizens to report on any foreigner they considered behaving suspiciously, yet, there was no toll free 1-800 suicide prevention hotline! Perhaps, there is one now. Many of my students and friends had no issue with suicide. If people wanted out, well, no one was going to interfere with their decision. I thought what a load of baloney! One caring man has proven them wrong.

Nemoto’s efforts are admirable and herculean in the face of Japan’s suicide culture, and I pray that others join him in the good fight to address this social issue.

I applaud the director and her team in making such a poignant and powerful documentary on the life of Ittetsu Nemoto and his compassionate work and shining a light on Japan’s suicide culture. I highly recommend the documentary for you won’t be disappointed.

The Departure will be playing at various theatres:

TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 on May 3 @ 6:15 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 on May 4 @ 9:00 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 on May 5 @ 3:30 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased here!

One thought on “2017 Hot Docs ‘The Departure’

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