Reflections on two films

I watched (in fact re-watched) the Japanese film “The Great Passage” over the Lunar New Year break. The film tells a simple story – a group of editors in 1995 set out to follow their dream of producing a definitive dictionary for the Japanese language, and the enormous effort made over a period of 14 years in completing the dictionary in 2009. There are many things that can be said about this great film, but at this particular moment in time, the film resonates deeply with what is happening around us in Hong Kong. I would like to recommend the film to the students and the youth of this generation who were at the unrests that broke out in Mongkok on the first night of the new year.


“Resistance” normally conjures up the image of taking actions: getting up and going somewhere, voicing out, even hitting and fighting. “The Great Passage” is about resistance in silence and perseverance – literally sitting there writing a dictionary year after year. Writing (and hoping to sell) a full size, hardcopy dictionary on the advent of the digital age is declaring war on the times, through the sheer aspiration to communicate and thus preserve the essence and beauty of the Japanese language. Contrary to conventional perception, the strength of silent resistance is simply towering. It has overcome human prejudices, financial difficulties, it has survived life’s ups and downs, and has even transcended life and death. In the midst of the greatest difficulty, the one thing that the editor has never done is to despair. “Come what may, I will complete the dictionary”, and he never turned back. The dictionary was well received, and at the end of the film, the editors have started writing the second edition. The end is also the beginning. The strength is preserved in silence and will go on and on, crossing the passage of the great seas.


The second film I watched is “The Longest Day in Japan”, which sets out what happened in Tokyo on August 14 and 15, 1945 – the latter being the day Japan surrendered to the Allies which ended the Second World War. We have taken for granted Japan decided to surrender to avoid further casualties caused by the Allies’ attack, as broadcasted through the recording by the Emperor. In fact, the film re-enacted the historical evidence that a group of military fanatics had been trying to stop Japan from surrendering. The fanatics tried to cut off the communication channels of the Imperial Palace with a view to forcing the Emperor to change the broadcast to advocate continuing with the war and fighting on Japan’s soil. Had the fanatics succeeded, the entire modern history of Japan and even of the world would have to be re-written. Continuation of the war on Japan’s soil would mean flying human beings in planes as bombs to attack the Allies, and a third atomic bomb being dropped over Tokyo, which means the destruction of Japan as a nation. The film recounts how easy it would have been for the fanatics to take over control of the government, and steadfastness of the Emperor and his followers in trying to prevent the fanatics from succeeding. The course of history would have been entirely different if men and women lose their minds in a flick of a moment…


“The Great Passage” tells me that resistance can take many forms, depending on strategies, contexts and timing. Silence and perseverance can be as powerful, if not more, as any other means. One of the strategies that Sunzi taught us (in “Art of the War”) is to “remain still as a mountain”. “The Longest Day in Japan” tells me that in the heat of everything, in the midst of chaos and senseless fighting, it is very easy to become fanatical (even out of the best intentions). Men and women must remain rational and clear headed, especially at the moment of greatest pressure. Not being able to do so would mean destroying, with our own hands, the very core values that we are trying so hard to preserve.