Film Review: The Great Passage

By Joy Chiang Ling

Charming and poignant, The Great Passage, directed by Yuya Ishii, is an unconventional Japanese drama about a team of editors working together to create a dictionary. Together, they define words such as “right”, “sea” and “love” as they come to terms with various changes in their life. The movie stars Ryuhei Matsuda as Mitsuya Majime, the socially inept logophile who is appointed editor-in-chief after an elderly man named Kohei Araki (played by Kaoru Kobayashi) retires from the position.

One can’t help but worry about the characters, who seem doomed from the start. The story initially takes place in 1995, the start of the digital era. Printed dictionaries are becoming out of fashion as they are being replaced by their virtual counterparts. However, Majime and his colleagues are determined to fulfill their vision of a “dictionary of the moment,” and overcome many obstacles on their quest to finish it. Viewers can’t help but cheer for these characters, who are flawed yet incredibly likeable. I sometimes found myself sighing in despair or smiling with relief as I watched these characters’ situations unfold, hoping that all of their hard work will eventually pay off.

The Great Passage tells a mundane story that might be slow-paced for some. A movie about a group of people writing a dictionary does not, by nature, bring to mind adrenaline-fueled action. Despite its lack of spontaneity, this film manages to make even everyday tasks seem interesting, thanks in part to its talented actors and endearing character development. The Great Passage is a rewarding film for those who have the patience to watch it.

It will be featured in the New York Asian Film Festival, which begins June 27, 2014 and ends July 14, 2014. It will take place at 333 East 47th Street Japan Society.

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