受賞の瞬間、滝田洋二郎監督は足早に壇上に上がり、「サンキュー、オール・アカデミー」と英語であいさつした――。第８１回アカデミー賞で「おくりび と」が外国語映画賞を受賞した。英語題は「旅立ち」を意味する「ディパーチャーズ」。海外３６カ国・地域で公開が決まっている。滝田監督はスピーチを「ア イル・ビー・バック」と締めくくった。
本木さんは、納棺師の青木新門氏の著書「納棺夫日記」を読み込み、現役納棺師の特訓を受けた。「ご遺体」を丁寧に清める湯灌（ゆかん）の儀。旅立 ちの衣装への着替えでは、故人の肌が見えぬよう細心の注意を払い、化粧を施して生前の面ざしをよみがえらせる。流れるような所作の美しさ。ひつぎに納める までの動きの隅々に、命に対する厳粛な思いがにじむ。
メガホンをとった滝田監督は８１年にピンク映画で監督デビューし、８５年の「コミック雑誌なんかいらない！」で一般映画に進出した。幅広いジャン ルで上質の娯楽映画を手がけてきた。日本映画界を支えるヒットメーカーでありながら、国際映画祭とは縁が薄かったが、今回の受賞で国際舞台に大きく羽ばた いた。
Funeral industry in spotlight after Oscar night
BY KIYOKO MIICHI
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Sakura Tokita consults Yoshiaki Yajima on funeral procedures. (YUKI NAKAZATO/THE ASAHI SHIMBUN)
Yojiro Takita's "Okuribito" (Departures), which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in Hollywood on Sunday, sheds light on a profession that had received little attention until now: nokanshi, workers who prepare bodies for funerals.
One woman who relates to the lead character played by Masahiro Motoki in the movie is Sakura Tokita, 37.
Tokita has been preparing bodies for cremation for the past eight months at a funeral parlor in Ibaraki Prefecture.
"It is not painful," she said. "I feel very fulfilled when I am able to send someone on their way."
In mid-February, Tokita visited a bereaved home in Ibaraki Prefecture with a colleague, Yoshiaki Yajima, 53, to prepare a body. The work is done in full view of the bereaved family.
First, Yajima disinfected the deceased's nose and mouth with absorbent cotton dipped in rubbing alcohol, and placed more cotton in the nasal passages. Tokita handed him tweezers and other tools.
Next, Yajima drew on eyebrows and skillfully applied other makeup. The result left the dead man's face appearing younger. In just 15 minutes, the face looked much closer to a photo of the man taken years before.
The bereaved relatives became teary-eyed at the change.
"It almost looks like he will get up at any moment," one said.
Originally from Miyazaki Prefecture, Tokita joined the Metropolitan Police Department in Tokyo when she was 19. She worked as a detective.
She worked for a time after her marriage, but quit at 27 when she became pregnant. She stayed home to raise her two children for 10 years, but now that they are both in elementary school, Tokita began looking for work in June.
She answered an ad for a funeral parlor in Sakuragawa, Ibaraki Prefecture, and got the job.
The recent death of her uncle from cancer also motivated her to apply, she says.
On her first day, there was a funeral for a woman about Tokita's age.
When she saw the woman's young child, Tokita hid behind a curtain to cry.
Her first experience of preparing a body for cremation came just 10 days after she joined the company.
She had decided to just do her best, even if she made a mistake. If she found she could not handle it, she would quit, she thought.
Even when one memorizes all the procedures, it is difficult to do this work because of the pressure of working in front of bereaved family members.
Tokita admits it took a while to become adjusted to the situation.
"I often cried during my first three months on the job," she said.
Although Tokita had often seen death as a police officer when she handled traffic accidents or drug overdose cases, having children and being older have given her a deeper appreciation of life.
"I believe preparing the body for a coffin is in a way a psychological (process) that helps bereaved family members cope with their sadness," she said.
Yajima is a veteran nokanshi, having handled about 13,000 cases over a career extending about two decades.
"I just move my hands in a very focused manner without thinking about anything," he said. "The deceased's face can change greatly with just a few touches" of makeup.
Two years ago, Yajima was hospitalized after being diagnosed with a connective tissue illness. He still takes medication.
In the movie "Okuribito," one character says, "Death is like a gate that everyone has to pass through."
However, even though he has worked many years with dead bodies, Yajima says that death still scares him.
"Since I returned to work after pondering my own death, I have begun to feel more strongly that I must mourn each individual and remember them in my soul," he said.
Yajima said he was happy the movie has shed more light on their work.
Tokita also said she has found her calling.
"Like the main character, I have now, after several months, begun to feel like I can continue with this work," Tokita said. "'Okuribito' is a job that is indispensable."(IHT/Asahi: February 25,2009)