Movie Review: Drive My Car (ドライブ・マイ・カー)

It’s the film that all the critics are raving about, so much so that it’s probably the frontrunner for 2022’s Best International Feature Film Oscar. No, it’s not the Cannes Palme d’Or award-winning film, TITANE. That film is too outré for Academy voters, which is probably why it didn’t make the shortlist that was announced on December 21. I’m referring to the Japanese film, DRIVE MY CAR.

Based on a short story of the same name by Haruki Murakami/村上春樹, DRIVE MY CAR is a contemplative tale about coming to terms with loss, guilt and regret. The film opens with stage actor Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima/西島秀俊) and his television screenwriter wife Oto (Reika Kirishima/霧島れいか, NORWEGIAN WOOD) engaged in some interesting sexual afterplay where she shares her mildly erotic story ideas with him. But all is not perfect with their marriage. Years earlier they lost their young daughter to illness and Yusuke returns home unexpectedly one day to find Oto having an affair with up-and-coming actor Kōji Takatsuki (Masaki Okada/岡田将生, CUBE). Two years later, Yusuke is alone and he accepts a two-month residency with a theater program in Hiroshima, where he will direct an experimental, multilingual adaptation of Chekhov’s play Uncle Vanya. Auditions take place and while everyone assumes he will take the play’s titular role himself, Yusuke instead assigns it to Kōji, who has fallen out of favour with the public for his off-screen antics. Meanwhile, the theatre company insists that Yusuke be assigned a driver to chauffeur him around while he’s there. That person is Misaki Watari (Tōko Miura/三浦透子), a quiet, 23-year old woman from Hokkaido. Though Yusuke is initially reluctant to have Misaki drive his red Saab 900, he sees that she is a good driver who is respectful of his prized possession. As the weeks go by and they start to open up to each other, they begin find common ground in their respective losses.

Co-written and directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi/濱口竜介 (WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY/偶然と想像; HAPPY HOUR/ハッピーアワー), DRIVE MY CAR has a lot more flesh on the bones than Murakami’s story does. The film clocks in at just under three hours and audiences would be forgiven for thinking that they just watched two movies in one as the opening credits don’t start rolling until the 40-minute mark. This is the film’s big challenge for audiences, but perhaps Hamaguchi was trying to mirror the film’s pacing in Misaki’s driving style — slow and steady, and gently avoiding any bumps in the road. Personally, I would have preferred that the film’s prologue, as interesting as it is, be told in flashback. Nevertheless, the story cruises along just fast enough that it never gets boring.

The performances are all excellent and watching the international cast of actors rehearse Uncle Vanya in their own language is absolutely fascinating. One scene in particular, with one actor speaking her lines in Mandarin and the other using Korean Sign Language, transcends the boundaries of language. It illustrates that such a multilingual production could exist and be effective, though I’ve never heard of one.

If you can find the patience to sit through a three-hour movie that doesn’t involve superheroes, you’ll probably enjoy DRIVE MY CAR. Will it take home the Oscar in March? It’s not my first choice but it may. It’s the kind of film that Academy voters would choose.

DRIVE MY CAR is playing now in Hong Kong. If you’re tired of watching Japanese films that are about cat-loving high schoolers, malevolent spirits or police detectives who have supernatural abilities, then definitely check this one out.

Thanks for reading but don’t be a stranger! If you liked what you just read, here are some suggestions:

Sign up to receive my movie reviews in your inbox automatically
Share this review on your Facebook page
Leave me a message telling me what you thought of my review or the film
Bookmark the site and visit often
Like my Howard For Film Facebook page
Watch my reviews on my YouTube page
Check out my Howard For Film magazine on Flipboard
Tell your friends about the site

Sign up to receive my movie reviews in your inbox automatically
Share this review on your Facebook page
Leave me a message telling me what you thought of my review or the film
Bookmark the site and visit often
Like my Howard For Film Facebook page
Watch my reviews on my YouTube page
Check out my Howard For Film magazine on Flipboard
Tell your friends about the site

One thought on “Movie Review: Drive My Car (ドライブ・マイ・カー)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.