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The Great Passage ("Fune wo Amu")

Canadian Premiere
  • Japan
  • 2013
  • 133 mins
  • HD
  • Japanese
  • English (subtitles)
Official Selection, Hong Kong International Film Festival 2013
Official Selection, Seattle International Film Festival 2013
Official Selection, Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival 2013

“Cult Japanese director Yuya Ishii has delivered another gently absorbing drama” – Mark Adams, SCREEN DAILY

“Genuinely charming” - James Hadfield, TIME OUT TOKYO

The year is 1995. Mitsuya Majime (Ryuhei Matsuda) is an introverted linguistics nerd working the sales department at the Genbu Books publishing house. Awkward at his job and somewhat reclusive — living in a boarding house with his cat and hundreds of books — he is however recommended when the Dictionary Editorial Department goes looking for a new editor. The task at hand is tremendous: the compiling of an ambitious, comprehensive dictionary for the new, ever-changing millennium — a work of art in and of itself, The Great Passage. Finding comfort in words, Mitsuya tackles the project head on, derailed only when he meets Kaguya (Aoi Miyazaki), his landlady’s granddaughter. Words won’t suffice anymore, it seems. As he struggles to express his love, the project keeps getting delayed, complications occur. Alongside aging professor Matsumoto (Go Kato), director Murakoshi (Shingo Tsurumi) and immature modern language assistant Masashi Nishioka (Joe Odagiri), Mitsuya unknowingly embarks on the journey of his life, a 15-year-long project of devotion and love, changing him with each successive word.

Yuya Ishii (SAWAKO DECIDES, MITSUKO DELIVERS) is back with another gentle, insightful and affectionate character study, this one of unparalleled ambition in its scope. Part dramatic comedy, part vibrant ensemble picture spanning more than a decade, THE GREAT PASSAGE is a subtly epic and gently humorous film, flowing effortlessly, Ishii’s camera acting as witness of changing times. Yet it is in the charming, precise character work that this latest film stands out. Alongside strong performances from Odagiri and co., the hardly recognizable Ryuhei Matsuda (TABOO, BLUE SPRING) carries the film on his fragile shoulders, spellbinding to say the least as a refreshingly believable introvert finding his place in the social chain, while never being made to change who he fundamentally is. A slow-burning romance serves as the film’s emotional spine, arrestingly graceful, at times beautifully elliptical and resonant in ways that will recall Ozu’s portraits of the working class. THE GREAT PASSAGE is moreover a beautiful testament to a very Japanese, yet declining societal attitude of respect for work itself — and the family ties that such hard work can create. A beautiful ode to a liminal time where beauty could be found in the meaning of words, things we now simply take for granted.

— Ariel Esteban Cayer