when Microsoft was in the ink-and-paper reference business? Now the Encarta
seems like a relic from a past era. In
contrast, the new dictionary a diligent Japanese publishing team develops might
just live up to its hype in Yuya Ishii’s quietly nostalgic The Great Passage (trailer here), which screens tomorrow during the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival.
the mid 1990’s, the publishing industry had barely progressed beyond a stylus-and-stone
level of technology. CD-Roms were
projected to be the next big thing. Mitsuya
Majimme, a socially awkward former linguistics student, performs poorly as a sales
rep, but he finds his niche when he is transferred to his company’s sleepy
reference imprint. Obsessively
detail-oriented, he is the perfect editor for the director’s ambitious new
dictionary, The Great Passage.
the next fifteen years, Majime will compile a definitive dictionary of the
Japanese language as it is truly spoken, identifying and defining scores of new
words, while refining the definitions of words that have evolved over time. It is an arduous, time consuming process,
involving note-cards more than computers.
Frankly, it is not the sort of investment his publishing conglomerate is
inclined to make. Fortunately, Majime
has a high-placed ally in Masashi Nishioka, a former dictionary colleague
transferred to the corporate marketing department. As Majime invests years of his life in the
dictionary, he also slowly but surely develops a romantic relationship with
Kaguya Hayashi, his landlord’s granddaughter.
An apprentice chef and compulsive knife-sharpener, she is the same but
different from Majime in all the right ways.
on Shion Miura’s novel, Passage can
stake a strong claim to be the great Japanese reference publishing movie we
have all been waiting for. Its
operational understanding of the dysfunctional business is almost scary. Yet, there is something aesthetically
pleasing about its affection for language and book people. It is also refreshing to see a film with a sufficient
attention span to follow the in’s and out’s of the fifteen year editorial and
production process. While Passage’s one hundred thirty-three
minute running time is not exactly breakneck, the consistently absorbing film
never feels slack or padded. Rather, it
pulls viewers along with its own gentle rhythms.
a radical change-up from his work in I’m Flash,
Ryuhei Matsuda is terrific as Majime.
Without the benefit of a big epiphany moment, he vividly portrays the
editor’s subtle but steady personal and professional growth. Likewise, Aoi Miyazaki is genuinely engaging as
the spirited yet only somewhat more outgoing Hayashi. Yet, it is Shingo Tsurumi and Kaoru Yachigusa
who really lower the emotional boom of time’s passage as the reference director
and his devoted wife.
Yes, this is definitely the sort of film that
will choke viewers up. Let’s face it,
there’s nary a dry eye in the house when that blasted dictionary finally comes
out. However, Ishii never indulgences in
cheap manipulation, earning his sentiment the hard way. At every turn, he opts for small telling
scenes over big melodramatic show-pieces.
The cumulative impact is deeply satisfying. Highly recommended for fans of Japanese
cinema and anyone connected to the book business, The Great Passage screens tomorrow (8/2) and Sunday (8/4) at the
J.A. De Seve Theatre as part of this year’s Fantasia Festival.
Labels: Book Publishing, Fantasia '13, Japanese Cinema