Blake Patterson’s review published on Letterboxd:
Hamaguchi Connects to Humanity's Universal Grief...
Drive My Car.
Directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi.
By Blake Patterson.
Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car was below my radar until several critics lauded the feature as one of the best films of the year. Then, there was an abrupt discussion about it being an Oscar contender because of Parasite’s success. At the time, I thought, “I knew about Parasite months before its release, and there were not many words about Drive My Car.” Once the film was nominated, every cinephile expressed, “Oh, I need to watch that one, but it is a three-hour Japanese film.” Yes, Drive My Car is three hours of Japanese dialogue, and there is not a flaw in its runtime.
Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car is an extraordinary film for many reasons: its bravery, humility, and intelligence. There is never a moment when Hamaguchi is self-important or saccharine in his direction, and he allows his gifted cast to portray the range of their complex characters. In Drive My Car, Hamaguchi focuses on an artist who is still grieving the loss of his wife after two years and accepts the opportunity to direct a production of Uncle Vanya. As the production begins, the lonely artist begins a friendship with his introverted driver, who also suffers from the past. What is most courageous and respectable about Hamaguchi is how he empathizes with each character. These characters may commit mistakes of varying degrees, but Hamaguchi does not merely perceive them as bad people.
As the movie progresses, Hamaguchi’s performers accomplish a balance in emotion and reserve. Hidetoshi Nishijima and Toko Miura are brilliant as two broken souls trying to recover from their past to achieve inner peace. Masaki Okada perfectly fuses arrogance with vulnerability as a self-destructive actor. Park Yu-rim also presents a touching performance as a mute woman with a tragic past. Each performer creates a memorable presence for the viewer, and the patience of the writing and direction convey the beautiful moments of human feeling in these characters’ lives.
Concentrating on its direction, Hamaguchi is a master in how he incorporates exterior and interior locations. Most modern films establish their interior and exterior shots like a television program. Whether it is day or night, the Japanese locations are aesthetically organic to the narrative. When the camera is inside a building, Hamaguchi does not present his performers with stagy choices in framing and movement. Hamaguchi lets the camera flow fluidly through a variety of techniques. It is also bold for Hamaguchi to include the opening credits at the forty-minute mark; this daring decision is worthy of Godard. While he is brilliant with his ensemble, Hamaguchi displays tremendous gifts as a poet of the cinematic language.
Some viewers may consider Drive My Car as a bland art piece, but they deny the thematic pathos of Hamaguchi’s piece. There is a beautiful shot when Hamaguchi concentrates on the two characters’ cigarettes outside the sunroof. The graceful sequence epitomizes what connects every individual through their moments of bliss and suffering. It defines the humane essence of Hamaguchi’s accomplishment.
I dread the inevitable American remake.