The movie is about the mad scramble of the members of one affluent, bourgeois family to honor ancient traditions in a Japan that worships its high technology, fast foods, instant replays, automobiles and labor-saving appliances as much as it does its ancestors.This movie shows a series of joyous contradictions. It’s a robust comedy whose subject is death, a film that is quintessentially Japanese though it recalls (without in any way imitating) the work of the quintessentially French Jean Renoir, and a tough-minded satire that is almost always sweet. (according to Amazon.com)
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The Funeral, produced in 1986, reminded me a great deal of The Big Chill which was produced in 1983. Both films are centered around the funeral of a person about whom the living have very mixed feelings. There are struggles around "pulling the funeral off" while people who have not had frequent contact for many years spend several intimate days in one another's company. The characters in the Funeral are connected through family lines while the characters of The Big Chill are connected through the coming-of-age years they shared at college; but, both casts explore the issues related to how life changes over time, what makes life meaningful, and whether one is living a life of satisfaction and lasting value.
Review of Juzo Itami’s The Funeral (お葬式)
Film review by Bryan Hynes: Hempfield HS- Landisville, PA
Juzu Itami’s film Ososhiki (The Funeral) is a satire exploring two cultural conflicts facing contemporary Japanese. First is the tension between traditional social norms and modern secular realities. Second is the individual’s role in a society that historically emphasizes Confucian virtues especially family and group harmony. The Japan Academy Awards winner for best picture, screenplay, and director of 1984, The Funeral is both a successful comedy, and a window upon the society of post-war Japan during the prosperous 1980s.
The majority of the film takes place at actor Wabisuke Inoue’s seaside home where his father-in-law’s funeral is being held. Here, along the windswept Izu coast, relatives, children, cats, and neighbors create a flurry of activity around the coffin of the recently deceased Shokichi Amamiya. In the days leading up to and including the funeral, mourners come and go; consume vast amounts of sushi, beer, and sake; do their best to understand funerary etiquette; and occasionally put down their cigarettes long enough to pop open the casket and take a gander at the deceased.
Even in the isolated seaside retreat, technology is forever intruding on the serenity of the funeral. Inoue and his wife, Chizuko, watch how-to videos on the correct etiquette for a funeral and repeatedly rehearse funeral pleasantries. Inoue’s personal assistant relentlessly pursues funeral-goers with a video camera while creating an artsy documentary of the wake. The sacred and the outrageous collide when the incessant ringing of a telephone interrupts the chanting of a Buddhist priest at the funeral, but no one is able to immediately answer the phone as extended formal kneeling has made everyone’s legs fall asleep. One of the final scenes of the film has the majority of the family sneak around the back of the crematorium to watch with awe as their relative is efficiently rendered into ash by a modern oven. In the final scene, the widow, Kikue delivers a eulogy in which she laments not being next to her husband when he died as she was forced out of the room at the end to make space for the hospital staff and their machines.
One reoccurring theme in the film is money. From the price of dying at the hospital, to comparison-shopping for a casket, and the cost of bento boxes for the mourners, the cost of death is foremost in everyone’s mind. Two scenes stuck out to me which concerned the issue of money. First is a scene where Inoue’s manager and the local undertaker debate what is the appropriate amount for a famous Tokyo actor to contribute to a Buddhist priest for his father-in-law’s funeral. The other is the scene is one in which a gust to sea breeze scatters dozens of envelopes containing money donated by the mourners. The envelopes are retrieved with great enthusiasm from the trees and brush outside of the home where the funeral is being held.
It is my opinion that this film is useful for the teaching of some aspects of the culture of post-war Japan. Assigning the complete film would be appropriate for college students. However, I do not recommend this film in its entirety for viewing by high school students. One somewhat graphic scene of sex between Inoue and his mistress Yashiko, along with some coarse language (albeit subtitled), excessive drinking, and endless cigarette smoking limit the use of this film in secondary schools. With that caveat, portions of the film could easily be used in the classroom to illustrate Japanese social norms, especially those surrounding a funeral. In a general way, there are numerous scenes that point out the importance of tradition and etiquette as well (e.g., bowing, use of incense in ritual, pouring of tea/beer, etc.) The film also provides glimpses into gender roles and expectations of marriage that could lead to class discussions if paired with an article or lecture on the same.
An interesting film for adults but suffers from directing
This is an interesting film which for one's own research could be paired with Departures, a much more recent film about death and funerals in Japan. This film is by a famous Japanese director of the 1980s who, in my opinion, also suffered from the over-monied, freewheeling Japanese businessmen attitudes of that decade of excess as well - the sex scene that frankly ruins the ending of this film seems thrown in to add a more risque element to an otherwise slow-moving plot that nonetheless does give a good look at Japanese cultural views of religion and death with some humor. This director also made the film "Tampopo" (which, surprise surprise, also has a weird sex scene thrown in to mix up the plot), which may make for better personal viewing and have some scenes that would be great in units about food and culture.
Review of The Funeral
From a review by Tim Jekel
A Japanese family has to cope with the death of a patriarch. The coping is no tin missing the man so much as following the proper protocol. The film is an interesting look into the maze of ritual and ceremony that attend major events in Japan.
Although funny at times, the film is primarily interesting to someone interested in Japanese customs surrounding death and burial of loved ones. The film contains a rather graphic sex scene that makes it unsuitable viewing for most audiences. Scenes from the film could be used to demonstrate aspects of the pressure Japanese people feel in their highly ritualized culture. Once scene in particular that works is when the family watches a "how to" video for funerals that explains what words to use in certain situations, how to bow, when to kneel, etc.
The action is rather slow for most American audiences, and the children are not granted personalities but are used for comedy or to produce noise and chaos at key moments. The film left me hoping I am never forced to undergo a Japanese funeral, from either side.