This film, whose Japanese name is Fune o Amu (舟を編む, which means “Knit a Boat” or something like that. No. I don’t get it either), is about a publishing house that decides to make a new dictionary. It doesn’t sound like much of a story at all, but that stuff fascinates me.
The story follows the progress of the dictionary, and the people who write it. The main character, played by Matsuda Ryuhei, joins the team as an assistant and slowly rises to be its manager, while falling in love, battling the publishers etc. Odagiri Joe is his co-worker, and Miyazaki Aoi is the love interest.
Although, really, the main love interest is language, and the obsessive perfectionism that goes with trying to pin it down. It is the fate of all dictionaries to be out of date by the time they’re published, so I think there’s a doomed romanticism to expending that much effort into something that can never be a definitive work, only a snapshot of an ever-changing subject.
Unfortunately, I can’t find an English subbed version, only a hard-subbed Chinese/Japanese copy, which is barely enough for me to follow the conversations which are, as you’d expect, all about the nuances of language. To be honest, I have doubts that even a fansub of this would be able to do it justice. I think you'd need some serious translating skills to get this done. Luckily, it’s already done the film festival circuit, so English subs exist out their somewhere, and it’s the Japanese entry for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film which means a DVD release is almost certain.
I struggled through the first half an hour, but to watch any more without really understanding it would be a crime, I think. The directing and photography are excellent, considering how much of the action is in a musty old office. In the meantime, I shall scan the local listings of Art House cinemas and search in vain for subs on the web, until the DVD is confirmed. It’s going to be a long wait.