Drive My Car by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, as Japan’s representative at the 2022 Academy Awards, is a maze, in his quest to understand humans and life. What is the reason behind a person’s behavior? Why does life go in certain directions? Based on Haruki Murakami’s short story of the same name, and a “silent” adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, the film offers a simple answer. So simple, it seems complicated.
Yusuke Kafaku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is an actor and theater director known for his unique multilingual style, where in one performance, the actors communicate in more than one language, depending on their country of origin. His wife, Oto (Reika Kirishima) is a television series scriptwriter. Their marriage seemed harmonious, and their sexual life was going well. Top Movie Site
Regarding sex, there are unique “rituals” that are always performed. In the midst of sex to orgasm, Oto shared script ideas, which he could not all remember. The husband served as a reminder, then recounted it to Oto the next day. If so, can sex be called an expression of love? More generally, do sex and love (always) intersect?
After a shocking event that was followed by tragedy, the story jumps two years into the future, highlighting the production process of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya script, for Yusuke to perform in Hiroshima. Actors from various countries are involved, including Koji Takatsuki (Masaki Okada), a popular Japanese star who admires Oto’s work, as well as a mute Korean actress named Yoon-a (Park Yoo-rim), who communicates using sign language. Both of them later play a big role in Yusuke’s journey to find meaning in life.
Yusuke has a special method for studying the script, namely driving around his red Saab 900 car, while playing a cassette containing Oto’s voice recording reading the script. After Oto’s voice was heard, Yusuke read the passage, as if having a live dialogue. Rather than the usual practice, getting here, the activity seemed like a catharsis. At some point the audience might ask, did Yusuke really read the script, express his heart, or both (life imitates art)?
The car became an intimate space where Yusuke could talk anything, while driving wherever he wanted. The small space sometimes feels spacious when we are led to explore the stories that emerge after being buried for a long time. But sometimes it’s very narrow and stifling, when Hamaguchi shows off his ability to build intensity through secrets that are slowly being revealed. Best Movie
For Yusuke, being in control of every aspect of life is important, as he “drives” the cast of the show. So, as one problem after another arose, leading his life to go in an unwanted direction, Yusuke lost control. Like a lost car driver. But he firmly “drives” everything, including refusing the presence of Misaki (Toko Miura) who was appointed as a driver while Yusuke was in Hiroshima.
Simply put, the script written by Hamaguchi with Takamasa Oe shows the dynamics of two humans who are afflicted with grief (as well as guilt) through the relationship between Yusuke and Misaki. Why did I write “simple”? Because the other subtext in it is so rich. Rich in contemplation, exploration, and then leads to understanding. One of Yusuke’s contemplations is related to the reason his wife did “something”, which he said was against their love. From there, another question arises: Why is life so hard?
In order to answer those questions, we need to review the story of Uncle Vanya. Drive My Car is indeed an adaptation of Murakami’s story, but subtly, the writers also incorporated Chekhov’s work into the script, combining two mediums (short stories and theatrical scripts), to create a third medium (film).
Uncle Vanya is a story about how we must keep moving, even though life is filled with suffering. Not because “life is beautiful” or other hopeful meanings, but driven by the thought “that’s life”. Why is life so hard? Because that’s life. We just need to live it, until it’s time to “rest”. It’s the same with the question about Oto’s actions. He did it, because that’s what he did. There’s no need to be associated with romantic ramblings.
As I mentioned above, very simple isn’t it? But it won’t be that easy to be accepted, both by the characters and by the audience, considering we’re used to looking for meaning, especially when we’re faced with problems. Then what if there is no “more meaning” behind the problem? What if we just need to keep walking down the street until it’s time to rest? Can we just give up? Maybe yes, but that doesn’t mean we always have to “drive” alone.
The duration of 179 minutes plus a slow tempo does not make Drive My Car appear tiring. The narrative is really neat, consisting of stages that help the audience understand the intricacies of characterizations and conflicts, so that they are easily absorbed into them. The plot flows like it’s traversing a smooth road, albeit a bit draggy into the final minutes, when the melancholy peaks and the slow tempo slows down even more.
For me, the strongest and most beautiful presentation of emotion in Drive My Car occurred during the Uncle Vanya performance. Precisely at the end of the show, when Vanya played by Yusuke, and Sonya played by Yoon-a, interacted. Both Nishijima and Yoo-rim both display peak performances through non-verbal speech, as if proving that taste transcends language barriers. Movie Review