Almost everyone could benefit from a little bit of therapy, especially therapists themselves. I often wonder what sorts of anxieties therapists have to deal with after they’ve finished dealing with clients for the day. Empathy and patience can take a lot out of a person. If Ittetsu Nemoto from the The Departure is any indication, the good that a therapist does for others can have consequences on the therapist’s own health.
Nemoto is a Buddhist priest in Japan who works as a counselor and in suicide prevention. He’s relatively well known–The New Yorker ran a profile on him in 2013. When he’s not helping people understand the finality of death, he’s glued to his phone taking calls from people in distress. Missing a call or text during dinner could mean a person has committed suicide. A compassionate voice is that valuable sometimes. Yet being there for the other person–which for Nemoto means many other people–also means not being present for his own wife and infant son, and losing a sense of balance in his daily life.
This alone makes Lana Wilson’s documentary a compelling watch, though it’s deepened by a close observation of Nemoto’s character. His life is so contradictory when he discusses its overall shape. He was a raging alcoholic partier before becoming a priest.
Director: Lana Wilson
Release Date: TBA
These sorts of punk-turned-monk contradictions are on display at the very outset of The Departure. Before we see Nemoto in his robes and with clients, we first encounter him in a dance club bathed in neon and strobe lights. He’s lost in the music and the crowd, but Wilson’s camera catches a glimmer of beatific happiness on his face. In retrospect, of course this man lost in the present moment in the club is a monk. Later in the film he seems less in control–drunk and belting out karaoke. Here’s someone I’d like to talk to about mindfulness before heading out to a karaoke bar.
At home he seems like a good but distant husband and father. His wife Yukiko is patient with him, devoted, and kindly reminds him to take things a little easier. But when dealing with the emotional and psychological needs of others, nothing is that easy. There is yet another contradiction in a life that seems so plain. By helping ease the suffering of others, Nemoto is suffering himself; and yet maybe the physical and psychological stress that this strain places on him is what gives his life meaning and makes it worth living. Maybe that last leap is a wholly western projection on my part.
The Departure is such a quietly observed film anchored the entire time to the stable (or maybe wobbling) Nemoto as its center. While he comforts a man over lunch about suicidal thoughts or in the same man’s apartment as he’s struck by a wave of depression, Nemoto offers conciliatory hums of acknowledgement and the occasionally warm smile, remark, and laugh. They talk about the man’s children, and Nemoto eventually opens up a bit about himself and mentions his son. It’s just one sentence, but it feels so blunt and weighty when he says it.
When someone so purposefully reserved shares something so vulnerable, it seems to speak to a larger yearning or anxiety or love within that is kept contained save for little spurts. The volume and quality of this inner life is emphasized by Wilson’s ability to isolate such moments as part of a whole. They are beautiful in passing, as brief as they are, though there are many.