Ben’s review published on Letterboxd:
I am all too familiar with the idea of taking a back seat to my own life. It is not necessarily because I am satisfied with my situation or the status of my relationships with the people in my life; it is because I am fearful of altering what has become familiar to me. The idea of confronting the bitter and souring circumstances surrounding me is discomforting because they are all I know. I have adjusted my life accordingly, making my coexistence with my issues a regular part of my everyday routine. I can only imagine them getting worse with any attempts to face them.
So, I take shortcuts and unnecessary detours to maintain my life as it is— unpleasantries and all. It is easier for me to sit back and watch each day unfold with the same unresolved problems rather than run the risk of drawing attention to the tension that permeates the air I breathe and the spaces I live in. I depend on habitual exercises to keep myself separated from my struggles and divorced from reality. I have become nothing more than a spectral spectator to my own life. For as much as I try to distract myself, though, I can never stop beating myself up, especially over my failure to act.
To be clear, I can act. Each day, I can put on a mask that no one ever knows is there, pretending like everything is okay. My stoic demeanor could fool anyone into believing that I am either a person who is blissfully unaware or a person who sees the pain around me and does not care. However, I am not those things, actively disengaged is the aptest way to put it. The people in my life give me direction, but I refuse to follow it. The signs and signals to take action are there for me to see, but I brush them aside because I fail to think about how these issues affect more than just me.
It is not until it is too late that I see the error of my ways. The things I wish I would have said, could have said, and should have said, are now the things I have lost the chance to say. The reality that all relationships have an expiration date is another facet of life I chose to ignore. I thought it was possible to get by fine by stumbling into each new day the same way I did the day before, but this is not how the world works. It does not revolve around me. The lives of those I know do not operate or function to enable my floundering.
It is not until those people that I know leave my life, whether they moved elsewhere or breathed their last breath, that I come to realize that all the issues I allowed to accumulate over time now exist in limbo. The feelings I grew accustomed to coexisting with have now morphed into feelings I am even more frightened to face. Guilt and grief replace the resentment and rage as the passengers in my journey through life. All the opportunities I had to make things right or bring my feeling to light plague my thoughts, playing out like a movie in my mind.
I turn to literature and performance to try and make sense of what I am feeling and how to move forward, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the answers I seek live within and around me. I am beginning to understand this to be true because, while vicariously living through others, their experiences awaken something within me. This habitual exercise of mine, something I depended on to avoid taking responsibility for anything, has forced me to look deeply at all the people and problems I pushed aside.
I have been listening to stories all my life, but I never took the time to see how I fit into them. I never put it together that their experiences resonate so strongly with me because these characters, and the other people reading about and watching them alongside me, are a lot like me. I never contemplated how important it might be to speak my truths, express my feelings, and tell my story. I never considered how opening up to others and seeing where our life chapters intersect could benefit all parties by giving us a better understanding of each other.
Instead, I embraced an existence based on assumptions rather than a life invested in uncovering how and why we are linked, lost, and loved. But, I could only alienate myself and avoid the universalities of the human condition for so long until I ran out of gas. I had no choice but to accept that I could not navigate life on my own any longer. I needed to travel through the trials and tribulations of life with more than the feelings eating away at my insides. I needed to listen, not hear, but listen, to the stories of others, and I needed to gather the courage to tell my own story, too.
It took the loss of people I love, as well as letting go of my routine, to no longer be the spectral spectator. I am now in the driver's seat of my own life. To the people I pushed aside or never had the chance to tell my feelings to, wherever you are, I am sorry. I am sorry for failing to voice my anger, love, and truths. I know I cannot go back and change the past, but I can live my life differently now and change my fortune for the future. You all may not physically be with me anymore, but each of your essences lives on within me.
Each of you makes up chapters in the story of my life, a book that no one can burn or destroy. You each helped make me who I am, and I am thankful for that. Your stories and mine are intertwined, and so are everyone else's. We constantly pass on each other's truths without even knowing it, and that is the beauty of life—that our stories will live on so long as humans exist. Names may be forgotten, obscured, or changed over time, but the story of what it means to be alive remains very much the same.
In Drive My Car, Yūsuke Kafuku sees parts of himself in Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. Through his time spent acting in and directing the play with others and his car rides with his chauffer, Misaki Watari, he eventually attains the clarity and catharsis that eluded him for so long. What makes the film so special, though, is that director Ryusuke Hamaguchi does not make us mere spectators of a journey; his masterpiece becomes a part of our own journies. I saw so much of myself in Yūsuke Kafuku, and by engaging with his story and riding alongside him in his red Saab 900, I attained clarity and catharsis that eluded me for so long, too.