‘It’s just a movie about heartbreak and love,’ says director of Japan’s first Oscar nominee | Oscars 2022


When Parasite won the 2020 Best Picture Oscar, it was seen as a long-awaited recognition of South Korean cinematic mastery.

Bong Joon-ho’s black comedy about two families on opposite ends of the country’s social spectrum was the first non-English language production in the 94-year Oscars history to win in the category.

After seeing its neighbor soak up much of the critical acclaim reserved for East Asian movies and TV series, Japan’s moment could arrive this month with a low-key drama from a director that many in Hollywood would have struggled to name until recently.

Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, director of Drive My Car. Photograph: Ronny Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images

drive my carRyūsuke Hamaguchi’s thrilling epic of heartbreak, connection and artistry, is the first Japanese film in Oscar history to be nominated for Best Picture.

His adaptation of a short story of the same name by Haruki Murakami – perennial Nobel Literature contender, but so far unsuccessful – was also nominated for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best International Feature Film.

To put Hamaguchi’s work in historical context, the latest Japanese filmmaker to be nominated for Best Director is revered Akira Kurosawa, for Had run36 years ago.

Hamaguchi’s demanding and extended work – whose opening credits arrive 40 minutes after three hours – follows Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), an actor and director who finds comfort in the conductor Misaki Watari (Tôko Miura) after the sudden death of his wife, Oto.

The industry awards calendar bodes well for Hamaguchi, 43, who made his debut as a commercial director just four years ago after winning acclaim for his documentary trilogy Tohoku – co-directed with Ko Sakai – on the human tragedy unleashed by the triple disaster on Japan’s northeast coast in March 2011.

drive my car won the Golden Globe for Best Non-English Film in January and Best Screenplay at Cannes last year. Earlier this month it won a Bafta for best non-English language film.

“The more I think about it, the less sure I am,” Hamaguchi said in a recent interview as he attempted to explain how his film is now on the verge of making movie history.

drive my car
Reika Kirishima, who plays Oto Kafuku, Yusuke’s wife, and Hidetoshi Nishijima, in Drive My Car. Photo: Janus Films

“But one thing I can say is that it’s a very normal movie. It’s about people who have all these different flaws, each trying to have a better life for themselves. To love someone a or something is a way to do it, but when you love someone, one day you lose or separate from that person.

“It’s almost like an oxymoron. That’s sort of the normal aspect of this movie, that it’s about love loss and love gain.

Since its release last year, a consensus has formed around drive my car like a film of our time. Part was filmed during the coronavirus pandemic – it ends with its characters masked – and, months after the resounding success of squid gamehe surely settled the dispute over the subtitles.

A scene from Parasite
Park So-dam and Choi Woo-Shik in Parasite. Photography: Curzon/Allstar Artificial Eye

As Phil Hoad wrote when explaining why drive my car set to win later this month: “This powerful work is the perfect winner for best post-pandemic film, emerging from soul-searching and trauma with calm direction. It straddles Twitter’s faux blockbuster-v-arthouse dichotomies with a total sense of absorption into its own lens. In times like these, it’s the art that keeps the engine running.

Hamaguchi is reportedly looking forward to meeting Steven Spielberg and Denzel Washington in Los Angeles, where drive my car will compete for best film with, among others, Jane Campion’s gothic western The power of the dog and Kenneth Branagh’s autobiography Belfast.

But he was quick to recognize Bong’s role as the standard-bearer of what is proving to be a golden age for East Asian filmmakers and actors. One year later Parasite won four Oscars in major categories, nomadlanddirected by Chloe Zhao, the Chinese-born filmmaker, won three Oscars – including best director – and South Korean actor Youn Yuh-jung won the Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in minari.

“I think the reason this movie has been accepted around the world is because the actors’ performances and voices are believable,” Hamaguchi said shortly after. drive my caradding that Bong’s film broke the psychological resistance – and petty preconceptions – that once stood as a barrier to Asian films.

“We, the next generation of Asian films, are walking through the door that Parasite opened,” he said.


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