Emiliano’s review published on Letterboxd:
The title card for Drive My Car shows up onscreen and I find myself sobbing. I let the credits run while the music is playing and remain silent, looking nowhere, with nothing in my thoughts. I realize the film has moved me as few have ever done. Three hours feel like thirty minutes, people expressing their thoughts are one with the viewer if he or she accepts to embrace these characters, and the so-cliched word masterpiece feels short for a work such as Drive My Car.
Ryusuke Hamaguchi's existential drama is an invitation, an invitation to delve into the worlds of the Japanese author Haruki Murakami, whose novels resound across the globe and trap millions of readers with stories about loss, grief, sex, love, or music. Hamaguchi crafted —seemingly effortless— the universe of Murakami, immersing us in a 176-minute ride of emotions. Just as Lee Chang-dong tranced the audience with a slow-burning thriller as Burning was, the director of Drive My Car opens the gates to the purest side of the human being.
Yūsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) has experienced the loss of his wife. Working in the field of theater takes him to Hiroshima, where he leads the upcoming play of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. Kafuku loves his car, it’s a safe place no one can take from him, or at least until the residence where he is staying at tells him a specialized driver will be assigned to him to prevent further accidents.
This gripping, wonderful, magical, timeless Japanese oeuvre traces the path of dealing with loss, overcoming burdens, sex as a key factor for productivity —one of Murakami's specialties, actually—, theater, and how to elegantly drive an old yet charming Saab 900. There is no need to worry about the pacing, as it never slows downs nor drowns on its own daily-life-story, although it’s worth to mention this applies for the people with genuine interest towards the film and the topics it touches; it’s an invitation, after all.
Nishijima is the soul of the story, of course followed by the fascinating performance of Toko Miura as Misaki, the 23-year old driver and introverted companion of mister Kafuku. Day by day Kafuku works with the cast of his play, and everyday Misaki waits for him to drive him home with a pleasant ride. Eventually, these characters form a bond; it seems they have more things in common than they would’ve imagined. Kafuku recites his lines while a tape plays the screenplay read by his wife, Oto. Misaki remains silent, one day she can’t help it but to ask whose voice is the one from the tape and since that moment there is no turning back.
The simple action of reciting the lines of a script feels melancholic. Lighting up a cigarette relieves the tension intoxicating a scene. Riding a car is the sacred temple of Misaki and Kafuku; a confessionary, witness of the very actions that made these characters who they are. Where a young, unstable Takatsuki reveals an unfinished story which feels written by Murakami himself, but written by Oto. Simple actions that feel real, where genuine emotions drag us to connect with the brilliantly written by Hamaguchi and performed by such cast.
Regardless of these driving scenes being full of symbolism, revelations, or comforting silences, a lot of value exists within the theater plot of the film. The process of casting, reading and memorizing the screenplay, performing onstage or sitting in a desk reveals so much about the cast and crew. Almost as if Uncle Vanya was the mirage of Kafuku, the cast formed by Japanese, Chinese, or a mute Korean woman teach our protagonist a new meaning of what it means to live. The final sequence of Drive My Car enjoys the talent of Hamaguchi at the screenplay and direction, being composed with excellence in lighting, presence onstage, and writing. Not in a cliche way about «stop worrying and living your life», but as the fulfilling missing piece in the viewer’s life, who accepted to embrace this beautiful ride.
I won’t be the one to invite you to watch Ryusuke's oneiric instant classic, you will be the one to accept or reject his invitation to commence a three-hour journey about some of the topics mentioned above. I want to write endlessly about how the people, the cinematography, the score, editing and direction moved me, however, that will remain pending for when I decide to rewatch it. This far, I truly hope this wins Best Picture; not because I care about The Academy, but because I want this to reach the same people as Parasite did and hopefully many of these people will embrace the purity in Drive My Car.
Number 5 in My Top 100