The Great Passage is a rare story describing how a serious, quiet and
shy young man pursues his massive project at work with great diligence
and passion while winning his dream girl along the way.
When low-keyed, non-expressive and introvert Mitsuya Majime (meaning serious in Japanese! Played by Ryuhei Matsuda) is transferred to a new position in his publishing company to compile a dictionary, his life is forever changed. Originally a misfit salesman, Majime is perfect for his new role as editor. In fact, the clumsy young man is an outcast even in this society which values outgoing and talkative personalities. Equally out of date is the project he is working on a paper dictionary in a society with online and mobile communication.
Majime may be old fashioned: he works in a company which clings to an old dream to help users understand reality in the wide ocean of knowledge, by means of patiently weaving the boat of dictionary, "The Great Passage." He himself is also conservative in expressing his feelings to the girl of his dream, also granddaughter of his landlady, Kaguya Hayashi (Aoi Miyazaki) who aspires to be a chef in competitive Tokyo.
Yet we cannot help but admire Majime's dedication to his work: he meticulously looks for sources of new words and their explanations; he pays immense effort in researching the type of paper with the right touch for the dictionary. When the deadline edges in, he even camps in the office with his temporary helpers to iron out the mistakes until they finally meet the deadline.
Equally serious is how he approaches the muse of his life by offering explanations of words to coincide her careful action in the kitchen. What a nice merge of both threads in the movie! It was amusing when we see how he struggles to verbalize his feelings for her. Afterall, feelings have to be expressed.
Compiling a dictionary in an ever changing world could be daunting and overwhelming. But the director made it very interesting and almost sacred, not to mention the funny scene when the editors stay in a fast food chain to "overhear" youngsters' conversations. The romantic and hilarious courtship almost convince us that when there is genuine love and care, perhaps whatever you say does not matter that much: action often speaks better than words. In the same token, ironically, despite all the detailed explanations of the dictionary, perhaps sometimes the highest level of communication does not need, or cannot be expressed by, any words.
This is also a movie on realizing our dreams by intense focus and persistence: whether it is becoming a chef or compiling a comprehensive dictionary. Yes, it may take a whole decade to complete, but it is well worth the effort, especially in this fast changing world. The fact that they remain in the same old house and office all through the years echoes the themes that in this vast sea of mobility and changes, there is a need to anchor on something/someone constant before we can move forward.
The cast are excellent. Matsuda and Miyazaki shine in portraying the young, shy and kind lovers. You can't help feeling sorry and impatient for them. But in the end, I guarantee you will admire and appreciate their painstaking effort, both in love and in work.
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