Joel Hilke’s review published on Letterboxd:
With some trepidation, I rented this movie... I'd heard it was paced weird and, at three hours, it's a commitment. But it needn't have been a concern since I really, really liked it. And I'm almost ("almost") at a loss for words as to why. This is not your conventional film.
Trying to describe the plot is a challenge since so little "happens" over the course of three hours... and yet a lot is said. It's about a theater director in Japan who wants to put on a multi-language production of Uncle Vanya. He is given a young woman to drive him around town in order to avoid liability. And then he casts and rehearses the play. And he gets driven around, has conversations with the actors, and begins to open up to his driver.
And it takes three hours. And I have no idea A) why it takes three hours and B) how three hours passed so quickly. This doesn't feel like a three hour film... in standard movie logic, not enough DRAMA goes on to explain where the times goes. And yet it passes and its fascinating.
The movie is very introspective and reserved. What people are thinking at any given time is in their eyes and their faces and is most certainly not telegraphed to the audience. The director is asking you to go with him and if you lag behind, then he's not catching you up. it's a challenging movie, in theory... and yet I went along and time passed and I was never once bored. Even though I think I should have been.
Now, the movie probably hinged somewhat on your familiarity with Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. A familiarity I absolutely do not have so there's a very good chance I missed out on cross-pollinated themes. But I'm also here to say that the movie works even without that intimate familiarity.
Especially in the movie's killer, absorbing, and utterly lovely final scene (before the epilogue) which is what I assume to be the capstone of the play. A silent monologue told through sign language that surely is speaking to the themes and the sadness of the film. It's utterly beautiful and brilliant.
I guess the only problem this film has is that it most definitely will not appeal to every one. But it worked for me (and a lot of other folks). It's a lovely, lyrical, sad film full of monologs that are absorbing and sad. I haven't read the Murakami short story this is based on but I've read other of his work and this feels right. A really neat, thoughtful, sad and yet lyrical film.