Hot Docs 2017: The Departure Review

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In The Departure, a spiritual guide needs spiritual guidance himself. Ittetsu Nemoto is a Japanese Buddhist monk trying to assist suicidal individuals, while also experiencing burnout and pressing health issues. Like Mama Colonel, this is a documentary in which I wanted to know more about the subject and the context in which he/she works.

Nemoto certainly has an unique worldview presumably, in part, due to his experience as a rebellious youth and hard-drinking partier. At 24, after a motorcycle accident, he fell in love with his nurse and answered an ad in the newspaper to be a monk. He is now married with said nurse and has a rambunctious attention-seeking toddler who he needs to prioritize in his life. The challenge? The endless sea of suicidal individuals that have the monk on speed-dial (or speed-text, as it were). Nemoto prizes himself on responding to each message, but his doctor is warning him to avoid stressful situations.

Again, wow–what a story here. The style of documentary Lana Wilson utilizes here, like Mama Colonel, is the fly-on-the-wall style, and does not allow Nemoto to talk to the camera. I would have liked to know how much of a concern mental health is in Japan (my guess is that it is highly stigmatized and not discussed in the open), and how Nemoto got started in trying to help suicidal individuals. Did he have suicidal thoughts or depression?


The one-man mental health mission is interesting to watch in action. He counsels a variety of individuals throughout the documentary: one of which is a man who can only see his children for one hour a month and is wondering if he couldn’t just be in an accident and then they wouldn’t begrudge him for his actions. Another woman had to let her sister go after she was torn in half by a speeding train. Life is certainly at no loss for curveballs, and the question is, can this monk keep up? What is his training? How has he come to his values and principles? 

Why is he doing it all by himself? And is it okay that he doesn’t have all the answers and could use some of his own counsel? The film pushes us into the deep end of this man’s life, much as he must have been pushed in the ocean himself: the depths of helplessness and despair are certainly unfathomable once one tries to assist desperate others–so, perhaps he (and the director) are best off doing some grounding work and taking one step in front of the other.


Fri, May 5, 3:30 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 2


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