Drive My Car is a Japanese drama starring Ryusuke Hamaguchi as a director and co-screenwriter, an author who based the screenplay on Haruki Murakami’s 2014 short story. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won three awards, including the Best Screenplay Award, and will represent Japan at the next Oscars. It is interesting that this is Hamaguchi’s second film in 2021, because he has already presented it Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, an anthological romantic drama that was awarded the Silver Bear in Berlin.
Drive My Car (Doraibu mai kâ) review, plot
After a 50-minute prologue, we follow Yusuke Kafuku, a renowned theater actor and director, who received an offer to direct Uncle Vanya’s play at the Hiroshima Festival. Although he considers his SAAB 900 a workplace where he exercises text, the organizers insist on getting a driver, Misaki Vatari, a silent young woman. Kafuku chose the attractive Koji Takatsuki, who had a relationship with his wife Otto, as the main actor. As the premiere of the play approaches, Kafuku is forced to face painful truths from his past.
Every detail of the prologue that takes up one-third of the film could easily represent a spoiler. What I can say is that we follow the routine of a married couple and find out their common past. Otto is a TV screenwriter who got inspiration for her stories during and after sex. We learn a lot about her pain and her relationship with Kafuku, but also a lot of things remain unsaid – there is so much that the two of them can’t or won’t tell each other.
In his screen adaptations of the plays Waiting for Godot or Uncle Vanya, Kafuku demonstrates that major literary works do not know language barriers or nationality, but communicate on a much deeper, more thorough level. It achieves this by bringing together actors and actresses who come from different countries and pronounce their sentences in their mother tongue, while translations into different languages are projected in the background of the stage. Kafuku uses silence and emotional expressiveness of language in his performances with great effect, but the communication in his personal life is far from clear.
In the main part of the film, Kafuku tries to find peace and the eventual meaning of everything that happened, but also some form of control within artistic creation and the process of mourning. The story revolves mainly around rehearsals during which the actors work on overcoming the language barrier and on understanding Kafuku’s method of work. Kafuku loves to drive and these scenes serve as an effective metaphor for control. However, he is now forced to leave that control to Misaki, who is gradually revealing to us his own reasons for viewing the ride as an attempt to find peace and understanding for his own tragic past.
For a long time, their relationship is totally ordinary, characteristic of a taxi driver and a companion, that is, an employer and an employee – most often silent or Kafuku rehearses the texts of plays. After the gradual mutual revelation of the past, their feelings become something much more and gain the weight of guilt, grief and gaps that cannot be filled. At the end of the film, they are no longer connected by work, but by pain that is of different origins, but just as strong, as things that remain unsaid.
The author uses all the time available to him and everything that his slow pace and slower narration allow. The film has a melancholic tone in which the author placed lonely, vulnerable characters and his empathic philosophy of lost souls. Hamaguchi has always provided a lot of humanity to the challenging theme of the relationship between art and life, and in his film the car becomes a combination of a confessional and a couch characteristic of psychiatric surgeries.
Drive My Car is a Japanese Oscar nominee who presents a patient, subtle and melancholic study of lost souls – if you like slower three-hour dramas that have a lot to say about love, grief and inspiration, I believe this will be the film of the year. Final rating: 8/10
Doraibu mai kâ / Drive My Car cast and characters
- Hidetoshi Nishijima as Yūsuke Kafuku
- Tōko Miura as Misaki Watari
- Masaki Okada as Kōji Takatsuki
- Reika Kirishima as Kafuku’s Wife, Oto
- Park Yoo-rim
- Jin Daeyeon
- Sonia Yuan