At Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s drive my car is a thoughtful and enigmatic drama based on a short story by acclaimed author Haruki Murakami.
Yûsuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is a successful theater director, married to television director Oto (Reika Kirishima). They share a complex and creative relationship. One afternoon, Yūsuke returns home unexpectedly to find that Oto is having an affair with a young actor, Kōji (Masaki Okada), but he doesn’t say a word.
Yūsuke loves driving his car, a red Saab, and waiting in line on the way to work, playing against scenes that Oto recorded for him on tape. It is during one of these rehearsals that Yûsuke is involved in a small accident. Although unscathed, at the hospital, Yûsuke learns that he has glaucoma and that he will lose the sight of one eye. Shortly after, a tragic event changes their lives forever.
Two years later, Yûsuke accepts a residency in a theater in Hiroshima to mount a production of Uncle Vanya. The theater assigns him a driver, Misaki (Tōko Miura), and although initially reluctant, he accepts. The two quickly discover that a bond has been forged.
Yûsuke’s plays are very popular and known for being multilingual productions. The unconventional approach sees the actors speaking different languages - Japanese, Mandarin, Korean, English and Korean Sign Language – while a screen projects subtitles above them. Although expected to perform, Yūsuke unexpectedly cast Kōji in the title role.
For nearly three hours, drive my car is a slow-paced, but engrossing drama, more concerned with Who these people are just the events that happen to them. It is similar to Chang-dong Lee’s Burning (Beoning) in some ways, in that it extrapolates a marathon-length Murakami short story, emphasizing the character so that relationships feel authentic and never contrived.
drive my car isn’t in a rush to make his point – the title sequence, for example, doesn’t start until 40 minutes into the film – but it’s gripping to watch Yūsuke and Misaki slowly become friends and find things in common – even if it is part of this connection is a loss and a shared feeling of regret. We might be tempted to view their relationship as somewhat paternal. The film isn’t subtle when it points out that Misaki is the same age Yūsuke’s daughter would have been had she survived pneumonia. But Yūsuke doesn’t really behave in a parental way. Their dynamic is one of growing respect and friendship, each learning from the other, not a family surrogate.
Although it is not necessary to be familiar with the work of Anton Chekhov Uncle Vanya enjoy drive my car, those familiar with the Russian play may be able to draw richer comparisons and recognize common themes. Nevertheless, Yûsuke’s multilingual theatrical productions are fascinating. His only instruction, from the start, is that his actors read the text, familiarizing themselves with it to such an intense degree that they are able to interact on stage without knowing the other’s language. This also bleeds into Yūsuke’s real life, as he and Miaski are invited to dinner at his assistant’s house. Although translated, the dinner conversations reflect the dynamics of rehearsals, with three different languages around the table.
drive my car is one of those intriguing dramas that takes a slow and sometimes almost vague direction. Its languidly gripping storytelling is hard to convey in this review or in the film’s trailer. But in the end, you realize that this slow approach, welded to the excellent performances of Nishijima and Miura, is absolutely worth it and that drive my car fascinated you all the time.
“Drive My Car” opens in select Australian cinemas on February 10, 2022 and in the United States on November 24, 2021.
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