Review by Imogen G.
I went to see the much-praised Japanese film Drive My Car at my local, vaguely art house cinema. The movie is an adaptation of a short story by Haruki Murakami, directed by Japanese auteur Hamaguchi Ryusuke, and a long film at 179 minutes. The opening credits don’t roll until we’re 40 minutes in, and the story moves at a leisurely pace, but, to its credit, it is never boring. Sight and Sound have named this their third best film of 2021.
The plot seems straightforward enough. Kafuku Yusuke is an actor and theatre director who lives with his wife Oto (Reika Kirishima), a former actor and screenwriter. They have a stylish, glamorous lifestyle, but a tragedy lies at the heart of their marriage: the loss of their only child, many years before. Oto copes with her sublimated grief by spinning elaborate and oblique erotic fairy tales in a sort of fugue state during sex with her husband (which I think a lot of people would find a bit off-putting!), and by sleeping around, though Kafuku keeps his knowledge of her affairs to himself, as he fears losing her.
After Oto’s sudden death, Kafuku travels to Hiroshima to direct a stage version of a Russian play, Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Hiroshima, a place that was utterly destroyed and then rebuilt, is surely a symbolic choice of location. Kafuku casts one of Oto’s lovers in the play, bad-tempered celebrity rake Koji (Masaki Okada). Meanwhile, during his residency in Hiroshima Kafuku is allocated a driver to transport him to rehearsals and back each day in his glossy red Saab 900 – a tersely proficient young woman called Misaki (played by Toko Miura). Kafuku initially resents having a driver imposed on him, but over time he begins to open up to Misaki, who is also grieving, another complicated grief, after losing her mentally ill, abusive mother.
With themes of loss, betrayal and art, this film is Oscar catnip. Full of interesting ideas and arresting visuals, it is Japan’s official entry for the upcoming Academy Awards.