Departures director Yojiro Takita said he was surprised by the Oscar win
Japanese film Okuribito (Departures) has won an Oscar for best foreign language film in a surprise victory over the favourite, Waltz With Bashir.
The film about an out-of-work classical musician who becomes a funeral worker is the first Japanese win in the category for more than 50 years.
Tsumiki no Ie (The House of Small Cubes) won best animated short film.
It is the first time that two Japanese films have won Academy Awards in the same year.
Departures was a surprise win of the night as the Israeli animated documentary, Waltz with Bashir, had been widely tipped to take the gong for best foreign language film.
Departures director Yojiro Takita spoke of his own surprise at the ceremony in Los Angeles.
"It was hard to believe, and it was unbelievable... This is a new departure for me. And we'll be back, I hope," he said.
The other Japanese winner, The House of Small Cubes, is a 12-minute animation that shows an old man trying to keep rising water caused by climate change out of his house.
It was directed by Kunio Kato.
The biggest hit of the night was the British film Slumdog Millionaire, which won eight Oscars including best director and best picture.
Briton Kate Winslet won the best actress Oscar for The Reader, finally clinching the award on her sixth nomination.
Slumdog Millionaire is a rags-to-riches tale set in the slums of Mumbai
Sean Penn won best actor for his role as gay rights activist Harvey Milk.
Penelope Cruz picked up the best supporting actress award, becoming the first Spanish actress to win an acting Oscar.
Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for supporting actor in The Dark Knight. His family received the award on behalf of Ledger, who died in January 2008.