Does life imitate art or art imitate life? This question sits at the very center of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car – a film ultimately about human contradictions, shared grief and the soul-mending power of storytelling.
Based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, Drive My Car follows theater artist Kafuku (a beautifully layered Hidetoshi Nishijima) in his process of mounting a production of Uncle Vanya.
Having played Vanya in a previous production, his familiarity is vital to his vision. Yet, there remains a few peculiar aspects to his process. In the wider business, Kafuku is known for directing multilingual works, relying on actor’s instincts and rhythm rather than linguistic understanding of one another. In a more confounding choice, he casts controversial young actor Takatsuki (a chilling Masaki Okada) who holds complex ties to his personal life.
On every morning and night-time drive, Kafuku listens to a tape of his wife reciting his Vanya cue lines at a steady tempo. Contracted by the theater company to receive a driver for his aging red Saab 900, he reluctantly takes on Watari (a grounded Tōko Miura), an extremely skilled chauffeur. Over their long, Vanya-full drives, the two begin to form a profound connection.
Hidetoshi Shinomiya’s distant framings mixed with Eiko Ishibashi’s tranquil musical refrains bring a feeling of meditation to the many driving sequences. They should create a ten hour loop and upload it to youtube for the greater good. For now, here’s my favorite piece from the soundtrack.
Coming in at three hours, Drive My Car is a time commitment but never feels like one when watching it. The series of mysterious stories and unpredictability of the characters imply a sense of regret and violence lurking under quiet exchanges. The beauty of Chekhov’s words spoken in different languages and in one particular actor’s case, hands and weighted silence, cements the film as a worthy homage to its source material. I’d go as far to say this is one of the best films ever made about artistic and emotional process, with all its imperfections and frustrations laid bare. The opening credits don’t even roll until the extended prologue is complete, forty minutes into the film. Yet when they do, you’ve already fallen for Hamaguchi’s spell.
Even if you lose someone you truly love, life goes on. It is a harsh life, but it is not without a pinch of hope. And I think the burden on the actors to embody and realize the world of this story was immeasurable. I would like to take this opportunity to express my respect and gratitude to Hidetoshi Nishijima and all the actors for their sincere commitment to their roles.Ryusuke Hamaguchi reacting to the Oscar Nominations
Drive My Car is now playing in Select Theaters