Use in courses

This film can be used in anthropology and other social science courses in a number of ways. For example:
  • Introduction to fieldwork: watch this video as if you were the anthropologist stepping into this area for the first time. Write down what you think are notable symbols, events, and people. How does the body of the deceased transition from the world of the living to the dead. What are the various stages in this process? How can we analyze this as a rite of passage?
  • Introduction to Japan: Japanese funerals are of course different from American funerals. Draw a vertical line down a sheet of paper. On the left side, write all of the stages of an American funeral -- as you’ve experienced it. And on the right, write down what you see in the film that seems different.

Social death is different from physical death. While physical death is the death of the biological organism (and there has been heated debated in Japan over whether to recognize brain death as death; see Margaret Lock’s work below), social death is the process by which community members and family recognize the cessation of the social interactions of an individual. Full social death can take place a very long time after biological death (think of people who pray to their deceased family members asking for intercession on their behalf) and a funeral can be seen as the process of coming to terms or gradually entering into social death.

How was this film made
I had been conducting ethnographic research in this village off and on for the past two years and knew Gen’ichi as well as his mother. His death was a huge shock and surprise to me (as to all of his friends). I had been filming other events in the community for the past several weeks and already had all of my equipment, so I decided to tape his funeral as well. Obviously, I couldn’t obtain his parents permission until after they had arrived. I asked their permission to film on the first day, a little after they had greeted their son. I asked again on the second day when they were in a better emotional state - as well as several weeks later when I visited their home for a followup interview. I sat on the footage for about two years as it was very difficult emotionally for me to work on this film but decided that I owed it to Gen’ichi and his parents to tell his story. Gen’ichi very much wanted his life to amount to something and was a dedicated educator. After making a rough cut, I sent the DVD to his parents who said that they supported the project but (obviously) it was too difficult emotionally for them to watch the film. Since then, I have kept them updated on the status of this project.

The filming of the village in question was made under the authorization of the institutional review board (IRB) of Yale University.

Further notes under construction.

For further infomation:

Bernstein, Andrew. 2006. Modern passings : death rites, politics, and social change in Imperial Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.

Kawano, Satsuki. 2010. Nature’s embrace : Japan's aging urbanites and new death rites. Honolulu: University of Hawai*i Press.

Lock, Margaret M. 2002. Twice dead : organ transplants and the reinvention of death. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Long, Susan Orpett. 2005. Final days : Japanese culture and choice at the end of life. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.

Suzuki, Hikaru. 2000. The price of death : the funeral industry in contemporary Japan. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

Dramatic Films

Itami, Juzo (director)
1984 The Funeral (Ososhiki). 124 minutes.

Koreeda, Hirokazu (director)
1998 Afterlife (Wandafuru Raifu). 118 minutes.

Takita, Yojiro (director)
2008 Departures (Okuribito). 130 minutes.

Academic Journal Articles
Lock, Margaret
1995 Contesting the natural in Japan: moral dilemmas and technologies of dying. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry 19(1, 1995):1-38.
— 1996 Displacing suffering: the reconstruction of death in North America and Japan. Daedalus 125(1):207-244.
Long, Susan Orpett
2001 Negotiation the 'Good Death': Japanese Ambivalence About New Ways to Die. Ethnology 40(4):19p.
— 2003 Becoming a Cucumber: Culture, Nature, and the Good Death in Japan and the United States. Journal of Japanese Studies 29(1):36p.
— 2004 Cultural scripts for a good death in Japan and the United States: similarities and differences. Social Science & Medicine 58(5):16p.