Writer: Casey LeeWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects: Cinematography: Watch this if you liked:
“Sawako Decides” and “Mitsuko Delivers”.
Mitsuya Majime (Ryuhei Matsuda) is a meek and predominantly silent post-graduate in linguistics stuck in an unsuitable sales job of a publishing company, who couldn't even resist the small barks of a disgruntled bookshop owner to sell the company's latest publications.
When an extroverted Nishioka from the company's dictionary division comes desperately looking for someone with enough tact to define the word 'right' to fill in a vacancy at the division, Majime's unflattering reputation as a bookworm with zero communication skills may just be an unlikely fit to the bill.
Upon joining the new division, Majime and the rest of the division are briefed on the next project that they would embark on, which is to create 'The Great Passage'; a 240,000 word dictionary that will be the ultimate ship to sail across the sea of Japanese lexicon. Finally being immersed in a world where he belongs, Majime spends the next 15 years of his life to answer the call of his destiny.
Recently selected to be Japan's submission to be in the running to receive the Oscar nod for Best Foreign Language film, "The Great Passage" may be relying on the rather unusual but unique subject matter adapted from Shion Miura's novel "Fune o Amu" as a selling point. There is a certain kind of charm as one slowly dives deeper into the world of making dictionaries during a time when the hand-phone was still in its infancy and the most advanced computers only had spreadsheets. While the four-step process of collecting, selecting, entering and compiling sounds oh so simple on paper, no one could have imagined that just the first two steps alone could be a task that would take years, not countable with your fingers, especially with a language like Japanese where new words can be created almost on a daily basis. How no one had noticed how thankless and tedious the job is a daunting surprise.
But "The Great Passage" isn't just a word for word drama on the struggles of making the dictionary, we also follow Majime's growth. Part of that development comes when he is immediately smitten by Kagura (Aoi Miyazaki), the granddaughter of his landlady (Misako Watanabe), who faces insurmountable odds of her own as a young and aspiring chef in a patriarchal industry, and has a tranquil attachment with sharp knives. While their romance may not be the transcendental sort, but seeing the shy but sincere efforts of Majime trying to express his love for Kagura is just one of the ways for director Yuya Ishii to set the characters in with some sweet humour after a slightly haphazard opening.
Ryohei Matsuda's performance as the expressionless (try asking him to make a bummer face) Majime can be a hard read, which sometimes hides the nuanced brilliance, if any, even when we get some small satisfaction into seeing him grow from a silent worker to being addressed as 'director' of the division that he has given almost his entire life to. It is hard to see the insistence that he pours into making sure each word is properly defined when he hides under the mountains of books in his room, or the regret he feels when failing to meet a personal deadline.
But the greatest satisfaction of "The Great Passage" comes with the passage of time, when the distant reward gets closer and you learn that diligence has its rewards. It has a very close feeling to seeing a child that has grown up, as Majime is released from the 15 years of his life spent to see his lifework come to fruition.
"The Great Passage" is one of those increasingly rare tales that brings back memories of those who remember when times were simpler than they were. This is certainly for those that could remember a time when you had to check a physical dictionary for the meaning of a word, instead of relying on the autocorrect of your smartphone. Cinema Online, 19 September 2013