Japanese production a “highlight of the year”
Little by little, Yusuke starts talking to Misaki, and makes her tell his story. Their daily commute becomes a two-way confessional, and a bond is formed between an unlikely couple from different generations and different parts of Japan. There’s an element of father and daughter, but like most human relationships in this film, it’s one of emotional depth and psychological complexity.
drive my car has already garnered an impressive number of awards and accolades, and is described as “the best of this year Parasite”. Like that landmark feature, it was nominated for Best Picture and Best International Feature at this year’s Oscars. Ryusuke Hamaguchi received further nominations as director and screenwriter.
It’s a huge step forward for the Academy that films from a non-English speaking background are finally getting the recognition they deserve. Even so early in the year, it is clear that drive my car is one of the highlights of 2022 – a film that stays in the spirit and improves upon reflection. Any plot summary is utterly inadequate to capture the power and subtlety of Hamaguchi’s writing.
Based on a story by Haruki Murakami, the film echoes the sparse, unsentimental nature of that author’s prose, but adds layers of complexity, primarily through dialogue. Although Yusuke is rarely offscreen, he remains an enigma, perhaps to himself as well as to us, a strange mixture of passivity and determination. As a director, he’s a commanding figure, but totally at sea in his own life. If he has secrets, they are never given up without a struggle. The story is a slow journey of self-discovery, with Misaki playing the role of pilot.
drive my car is a film about grief, pain, guilt, shame and the interface between art and life. Years after Oto’s death, Yusuke is still grieving. He keeps his memory alive by listening to her voice recite the lines of Uncle Vanya. If he refuses to take on the main role, which he knows by heart, it is because he feels that when an actor immerses himself in the character, “it brings out the real you”. The implication is that art acts as a shield against an implacable reality.
By asking Takatsuki to play Uncle Vanya, Yusuke responds to his fear that the young man has usurped the lead role in his wife’s affections. It’s his conversations with Misaki that make him realize he’s not the only one harboring dark feelings of regret over the past.
It’s a miracle that drive my car can endure so much ambiguity without the storyline ever getting tangled up.
There’s so much going on in this tale that it would take a very long try to piece together all the threads. For example, a lot could be said about how the story relates to Uncle Vanya – a play about disillusionment and resignation to life. Critics have never agreed whether this translates to happiness.
On numerous occasions, the lines of the piece seem to comment on the action of the film, like an ironic refrain. One wonders if Hamaguchi emphasizes the relevance of art in life or portrays it as a refuge for a tortured soul.
drive my car
Directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Written by Ryusuke Hamaguchi & Takamasa Oe, from a story by Haruki Murakami
Featuring Hidetoshi Nishijima, Toko Miura, Reika Kirishima, Masaki Okada, Satoko Abe, Jin Dae-yeon, Park Yu-rim
Japan, assessed MA 15+, 179 minutes