Drive My Car (2021)

Three hours fly by in Hamaguchi’s gentle Cannes Best Screenplay winner—a highly-layered and nuanced take on the unresolved regrets and guilt that stay deep within us and the affordances of performance art and unlikely acquaintance as catharsis.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,247

Dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi
2021 | Japan | Drama | 179 mins | Japanese
R21 (passed clean) for sexual scenes

Cast: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Toko Miura, Reika Kirishima, Masaki Okada
Plot: Yusuke Kafuku, a stage actor and director, still unable to cope with the loss of his beloved wife, accepts to direct Uncle Vanja at a theater festival in Hiroshima. There he meets Misaki, an introverted young woman, appointed to drive his car. 
Awards: Won Best Screenplay, FIPRESCI Prize & Prize of the Ecumenical Jury; Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes); Won 1 Oscar – Best International Feature; Nom. for 3 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay
International Sales: The Match Factory (SG: Lighthouse Pictures)

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Guilt, Regrets, Theatre, Acting
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: The Projector
Spoilers: No

Ryusuke Hamaguchi is having a year that even top filmmakers would be envious of—premiering two new works at Berlinale (Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy) and Cannes (Drive My Car), winning Jury Grand Prize and Best Screenplay respectively. 

Three hours fly by in Drive My Car, a gentle adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story that would surely strengthen, if not already affirm the claim that Hamaguchi is the next big auteur of Japanese arthouse cinema since Hirokazu Kore-eda. 

With a terrific script as dense and highly-layered as any, yet rendered with such clarity despite all the nuances and ambiguity, Drive My Car ought to be seen on the big screen in one sitting just so that you can genuinely soak in the breadth and depth of human warmth and emotions. 

Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is a veteran theatre actor and director, attempting to stage a play by Anton Chekhov.  He’s married to his playwright wife, but one day things drastically change. 

“I love that car. I can tell that you take good care of it.”

A take on the unresolved regrets and guilt that stay deep within us, Drive My Car takes us on a journey (quite literally in several long stretches in the protagonist’s distinctive bright red Saab 900 Turbo) of personal recalibration and acceptance. 

Reluctantly forced to be driven by an assigned chauffeur, a young woman named Misaki (Toko Miura), Kafuku slowly finds an unlikely acquaintance in her as past trauma, present solitude and future uncertainties conflate through honest, sometimes existential, conversations. 

Because of the construct of theatre as established by Hamaguchi from the onset, Drive My Car is also about seeking catharsis through performance art, though he takes pains to show that this is not an easy task—catharsis might easily regress into depression as personal demons attack one’s baring of the soul.  This is surely one of the year’s most rewarding films.

Grade: A-




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