Departures is a Japanese movie that won 2009 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. As you might expect, it’s little different, but elegant in its presentation and musical score. It is the story of Daigo Kobayashi, a cellist with the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. As the film begins, the orchestra has folded for financial reasons and he and his wife are forced to move back to his home town to live in the house his mother left to him. Once there, Daigo responds to a help wanted ad promising good hours, great pay, and something about assisting departures for an NK agency. He assumes it has something to do with traveling or a travel agency. When he arrives for the interview, he finds out there was a misprint in the ad—rather than departures, it should have read departed. The job he has applied for is a Nokanshi (NK)—a person who prepares the body to be placed in a casket. This usually takes place in the presence of the dead person’s family. (There’s no need for embalming in Japan since everyone is cremated so there’s nothing in our culture that really corresponds to this largely ceremonial occupation).
He needs the money so he takes the job. He is repulsed by what he does and because there is a stigma attached to it, he tells his less-than-inquisitive wife (Mika), that his new job has to do with “ceremonies.” Over time though, he not only becomes more comfortable with his work, he begins to see how what he genuinely aids the grieving family. The respect, honor, and dignity he displays in preparing their loved ones for cremation helps to gently move them from the rawness of death to the acceptance of departure. Despite the cultural shame attached to his work, he begins to find in it the same kind of fulfillment he had in playing the cello.
But there are problems. Mika find outs what he does and leaves him, telling him she will return only when he finds a respectable job. Daigo not only continues his work but grows even more passionate about it. She returns some time later, but only because she has discovered she is pregnant and thinks that he will now “straighten himself out.” Someone is about to change, but it is not Daigo. When Mika accompanies him to prepare the body of a local bathhouse owner they were friends with, she is profoundly moved by what he does and the benefit it brings to the family. She later proudly speaks of him as a professional.
Paul tells Archippus, “See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord,” (Colossians 4:17). We don’t know exactly what Archippus work was or the circumstances under which he was doing it—only that Paul told to make sure he didn’t stop. That’s the thing, isn’t it? There’s no one in the body of Christ who isn’t gifted (Romans 12:6ff; 1 Peter 4:10ff). We’re all equipped by the Spirit of God for some type of ministry. It might be something that calls attention, but more likely it is something that simply calls us. The important thing is that we use our gifts to serve others, build community, and glorify our Father. Like Daigo, we need to develop a passion for our work because ministry is meant to be more than just what we do—it should be who we are. Complete the work you have received in the Lord!