Drive My Car

Drive My Car ★★★

Entrancing. Methodical. Poetic. Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car is one of two films released by him in 2021 - the other being Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy - both collectively having a runtime of 5 hours. If anything, that fact alone is evident of the director’s prolific work ethic, yet at once reveals the shortcomings of that as well. This film follows theater actor and director Yusuke Kafuku happily married, who discovers, unbeknownst to her, walks in on his wife having sex with another man. 2 years after her unexpected passing, Kafuku, still unable to cope with the loss, accepts to direct the play of Uncle Vanja at a theater festival in Hiroshima, where is appointed a young driver named Misaki. Inbetween car rides, secrets from the past slowly unveil themselves as Kafuku has a chance encounter with the man his wife had an affair with. 

Winner of the Best Screenplay award at Cannes, the film surely impresses in its writing through some very purposeful dialogue, patient character work and a gradual escalation of tensions. The directing is refreshingly laid back and embracingly simple which is something not often seen. Hamaguchi clearly understands when to cut and which shots should proceed each other, as he does when to move the camera and how. The influence by Kiarostami is at times almost blidingly obvious, but there is enough of Hamaguchi’s voice here to make it all work (even if the amount of scenes taking place in a car become almost comical). The visuals also strongly echo Hamaguchi’s sensibilities as a director - laid back, simplistic yet also aesthetically beautiful all the same. All of the performances from the cast are uneven, yet their highlights astound in their genuine sentimentality and nuance. Also noteworthy is the sound editing, with its powerful and intentional contrast between noise and silence - which silence almost echoes in a theater room.  

The film is *long*, and yes you can definitely feel the runtime. Most o the film is very enjoyable and easy to get sucked into, but it is undoubtedly elongated in this way perhaps to enhance the dramatic effect or have an almost tiring toll on the viewer. But this for me definitely was a detractor for the film, as scenes could feel stretched out and unecessarily long. And while admittedly it did leave somewhat an impact on me, I don’t know how much of that was from the film’s own qualities or because of its overlong runtime resulting in me kind of losing my interest (and trust me it took a lot to get that interest back).It is a film about enduring the trials that fate throws our way - and as the film itself puts it, even if we can’t rest, we’ll continue to work for others. The act of driving ones car to merely keep them going on their journey is poignant enough on its own, but I can’t help but ask: is this poignancy to the credit of the film or of the original text by Murakami?

Indeed - while I haven’t extensively researched my assumption - a lot of what I loved about the film seems to originate in Murakami’s texts. The plot and many of its messages are brilliant - but to who’s credit? But, I digress. In the end it is a part of the film itself so I cannot go “if X wasn’t here then Y wouldn’t happen”. The premise is still thought provoking and alluring, and so, so is the film. But for my last note of Murakami, I think another detractor of the film is a detractor of Murakami as well:the film greatly concerns Oto, the protagonist’s deceased wife, for a large part ofit’s runtime. Yet, as is a fault of Murakami’s, this happens mostly from male perspectives, giving little depth to the women in the story. I feel this wouldn’t concern me as much had the men not been mostly theorizing of her sexuality - which, without spoiling, is shown almost like that a magical power - for most of the film. There is a way to approach such subject matter (as Burning does with its almost non-characters, but it didn’t always work for me here. 

As usual, I sound overly critical in my review - natural, considering it is much easier to talk about the negatives of a film than to analyze the positive aspects, especially for such a long and dense film as this one. However if there is one more thing I’d like to point out is that, in contrast to what I’ve most heard about the film, while the dialogue is on the whole purposeful and incredibly well constructed, for me it did scarcely drift away from that and entered into the territory of prolonged, didactic preachings that could almost lean into exposition. And it’s a shame seeing the themes conveyed directly through dialogue when the plot itself conveys them in a much more visually interesting and intellectually stimulating manner. Nevertheless, Drive My Car bears manu fantastic qualities - certainly enough to justify its acclaim and accolades. It is a hypnotizing odyssey of twists and turns and an emotional journey through the inner turmoil of a man in constant grief. Without a doubt worth a watch, especially for fans of slow cinema, Asian cinema as well as for fans of Abbas Kiarostami.

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