Joe McKeown’s review published on Letterboxd:
Staggeringly brilliant from the first minute to last, Ryusuke Hamaguchi's Drive My Car is a deeply complex odyssey that covers the entire spectrum of emotions between a man, his wife, the lover and a driver.
The film opens with a sequence involving the married couple, Yūsuke and Oto, lying naked in bed as Oto recounts a tale of a young girl who has become infatuated with a fellow student. From there on out, it's a movie that unravels with each passing scene, much like Oto's story itself.
Somehow Hamaguchi manages to weave inside and out of our characters own lives and personal tales. The three central characters are all involved in the arts, and we learn as much about their lives through their writing, performing and directing as we do through the script.
Combining an original story with much of Chekov's Uncle Vanya, Drive My Car is a true metatextual masterpiece, in how each scene unfolds, as the characters perform their roles, just as the actors themselves, with the same themes running within their respective lives and that of the play.
Early on in the movie, there is a big reveal that sets up the journey for our main character in Yūsuke. Initially it seems as if the story will play out like an age-old story, but given the three hour run-time, the film is allowed to breathe into new avenues, twisting our preconceptions, switching focus between lead and supporting characters, all the while unpicking this vast, thought-provoking saga.
One of the key motifs in the film is the car itself. It always acts as a place of solace and reflection for Yūsuke. You can pinpoint key moments throughout the entire film based on what happens to him in the car - what occurs behind the wheel, whether he's driving or not, where he is sat, who he is sat with. It's just one example of how incredibly well-conceived the whole film is. Yūsuke's old Saab 900 is as much a character as anybody else.
I don't want to give away any specifics on the plot, because it's a journey you need to be taken on, but the structure alone is unlike anything else I've seen - I'll give you one for example, the pre-title sequence might hit the Guinness Book of Records.
But what may at first seem like an overwhelming exercise given the epic scale, is incredibly easy to digest due to the number of captivating scenes that flow from one to the next. It's so meticulously well-crafted - characters are given just the right amount of placement in the story to flesh them out whilst creating an air of mysticism at the same time.
Nobody better embodies this than Toko Miura as Misaki. She floats on the periphery in some respects, but is always taking in all that she witnesses, saying very little, until she's called upon to put everything into perspective, not just for Yūsuke, but for us as the viewer too.
There are shades of Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love at times. Certainly not in the approach to presentation, but thematically, and in the tone of finding a truth in relationships, not just between lovers, but between those on the outside looking in too. And I can't pay a bigger compliment than that - Kar-Wai's film is certainly in my top 5 of this century.
But Drive My Car is it's own phenomenal piece of work.
The Academy Award nominations for Best Picture are particularly lacklustre this year, in my opinion. Drive My Car shouldn't just walk away with the top prize, it should speed off into the distance.