Continuing on with some reviews I had in the queue from 2021 and this next one is the incredible “DRIVE MY CAR” from director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi.
If someone had told me that I would be spending three hours watching a Japanese film with sub-titles and actually want more when the film ended, well yes, I would have probably thought you had popped a gummy or two. I mean honestly, when was the last time you saw a three-hour movie you wished could be longer? And trust me when I tell you that “Drive My Car” not only inspires that wish, it grants it along with every other single film wish you ever had. It also has a moment where if ‘fools’ you as the credits roll around the 45 minute mark, which made me stop and think ‘what? what is happening right now, this can’t be over’. Have no fear because it continues to give you another glorious two hours of the world of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film, and its wayward characters, that keep unspooling in your head.
Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), is a Tokyo Theater Director and actor who travels to Hiroshima to be in residency at a local theater group putting on a performance of Uncle Vanya. The production is to be multi-lingual including Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog and even a sign language performer playing the role of Sonja (Yoo-rim Park). Then an arrogant young actor from Kafuku’s past, Koji (Masaki Okada), appears for the auditions to the everyone’s surprise. Mostly because the recently widowed Kafuku is overly obsessed over why, before her death, his wife had an affair with the young, famous actor, whose intelligence and lifestyle seemed, well, to put it nicely, beneath her. Is there something more sinister at hand here? Well stay tuned as it will all unfold before you in glorious fashion.
As one of the stipulations of this residency though is that Kafuku has to have a driver at all times. And that driver arrives in the form of the quiet and introspective Misaki (Toko Miura). Reluctant at first because not only of tradition but of learned leariness, Kafuku ends up accepting her. Part of his method acting is that he likes to take long drives in his car while listening to a specially recorded audiotape of Uncle Vanya. It’s during these trips where both the title comes from, but, also provides a basis for their relationship even though few words are exchanged between them though Miskai has a stoic enough approach early into it all that it can’t help but to suggest she’s haunted by something. And yes, it’s the images that will stick with you throughout this film; like the two hands thrust through a Saab’s moon roof clutching cigarettes, two figures perched atop a cliff-like snowdrift, a young woman hanging back, completely captivated, as the actors rehearse the play in a park setting.
And just like a well-done play, the earlier acts create the necessary build-up for the climax and resolution to this journey. The structure of the film is like a mystery box, opening its secrets stage by stage. Even the last act is never rushed. Each scene, each nuance, is so very carefully weighed and delivered to you. It’s all so brilliantly that again, you never realize you’ve been spending the last three hours of your life completely enthralled and enveloped in the journey ‘DRIVE MY CAR’, as it’s well-worth every minute of it.
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Review Screener: Courtesy of Divergent PR.
“DRIVE MY CAR” is now playing in select theaters