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Netflix’s The Parades: This Japanese drama about the afterlife is a poignant, dreamy masterpiece

Published Mar 7th, 2024 9:03PM EST
Image: Netflix

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In director Michihito Fujii’s newly released Netflix drama The Parades, death is not an ending. Instead of the finality of crossing over to the other side, this dreamy Japanese film characterizes humanity’s transition to the afterlife in the form of a recurring parade. Specifically, it’s a monthly procession wherein the souls of those who’ve died set out in search of the loved ones they hope to see again and reconnect with. Along the way, they also learn more about their fellow departed companions.

In the process, the dead also get the closure they need, which allows them to move on from their limbo between life and death. It’s heady stuff, and it makes for an absolutely breathtaking story.

The Parades opens with a mother watching her son Ryo scamper around a beach as waves lap at the shore. The boy turns back occasionally to wave at her, while we’re watching the scene from her perspective. We can see her hand reach out for the boy, while an ethereal, synth-heavy soundtrack plays in the background. And then — there’s an abrupt cut to a disorienting scene of rushing water, air bubbles, and detritus floating all around, the sorts of things you’d see if you were drowning.

A drone shot from high above fills in the details. The water is once again calm, as the drone slowly pans up to reveal a shoreline littered with trash and corpses. Minako, the mother who’d been playing her son, wakes up amid all that devastation and begins searching frantically for the boy. Rescue workers don’t respond when she approaches and begs for help.

The movie doesn’t make you wait long to reveal that Minako is actually dead. That’s because the payoff here isn’t some last-act, Sixth Sense-style twist. The Parades is more concerned with saying something meaningful and profound about human connection and love, the sorts of things that don’t die just because people do.

As Minako kind of stumbles around in a daze, trying to make sense of her new reality, she encounters a group of departed souls like her. They occupy an abandoned fairgrounds just outside of town, and they end up comprising a kind of surrogate family for her. The group includes a film producer, a member of the yakuza, a high school girl, and a bank manager — plus Minako, who was a journalist when she was alive but now only cares about what happened to her son.

Watching the backstory of each character unfold is a masterclass in subtly and exquisite storytelling. These quiet, beautiful scenes are so good, you wish they could linger a little longer. Like when the former yakuza member goes to visit a loved one who can’t see or hear him; he marvels aloud at how she hasn’t changed a bit, and he tells her he’s sorry. Or pretty much anytime Michael, the former film producer, is on-screen. He died before getting to finish his magnum opus, a romantic film based partly on his own life during the student protests of 1968.

Michael convinces the rest of the lost and wandering souls in his orbit to help him finish the movie and try to get it seen by the people he left behind. Which, I suppose, is The Parades making a declaration about the power of not only human connection but also art to transcend death. “From your cherished ones to you,” the movie promises, “the parade of love goes on.”

Check out a trailer for The Parades below.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.