“Drive my Car” (2021)
Running Time: 110 minutes
Written by: Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe
Directed by: Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Featuring: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Tōko Miura, Reika Kirishima, Park Yu-rim, Jin Dae-yeon, Sonia Yuan, Ahn Hwitae, Perry Dizon, Satoko Abe and Masaki Okada
Kôshi Takatsuki: “But even if you think you know someone well, even if you love that person deeply, you can’t completely look into that person’s heart. You’ll just feel hurt. But if you put in enough effort, you should be able to look into your own heart pretty well. So in the end, what we should be doing is to be true to our hearts and come to terms with it in a capable way. If you really want to look at someone, then your only option is to look at yourself squarely and deeply.”
Released recently on DVD is the Japanese film “Drive my Car” (2021) which was one of the best reviewed dramas of 2021 and won the Oscar for Best International Feature Film in 2022, something well deserved. This is not only a great film in terms of Japanese cinema but it also illustrates what can happen when art and commerce come together to create a challenging film that can have real international success. It seemingly had everything stacked against it, a long running time, unknown actors, a challenging location, dialogue in a foreign language and some real themes about being alive right now. However it was almost universally hailed as not only a breakthrough but also the announcement of a unique voice whose work will be looked forward to for the rest of his career.
“Drive my Car” is co-written and directed by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, it is inspired by Haruki Murakami’s short story of the same name, and that title, like Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, is designed to invoke the feeling of a Beatles lyric. Hamaguchi’s previous pictures “Asako I and II” (2018) and “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” (2021) were about the enigma of identity, the theatrical role play involved in all social interaction and the erotic rapture of intimacy.
“Drive my Car” is based around Yûsuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima) a successful actor and theatre director who specialises in experimental multilingual productions with surtitles, he is currently working on Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and is preparing to play the lead in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. He has a complex relationship with his wife Oto (Reika Kirishima), a successful writer and TV dramatist who has a habit of murmuring aloud ideas for erotic short stories, trance-like, while she is astride Yûsuke having sex, including a potent vignette about a teenage girl who breaks into the house of the boy with whom she is obsessed.
The couple learn that Yûsuke is in danger of losing the sight in one eye but this perhaps makes it easier for him to accept that he will need a driver for his trusty Saab 900 when he later directs a new revival of his Vanya production at an arts festival in Hiroshima, a city that is photographed with crisp unsentimentally.