Review: Drive My Car – Doraibu mai kâ (2021)

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Drive My Car – Doraibu mai kâ (2021)

Directed by: Ryssuke Hamaguchi | 179 minutes | drama | Actors: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Tôko Miura, Reika Kirishima, Park Yu-rim, Jin Dae-yeon, Sonia Yuan, Ahn Hwitae, Perry Dizon, Satoko Abe, Hiroko Matsuda, Toshiaki Inomata, Takako Yamamura, Ryô Iwase

The forty-minute prologue to Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s ‘Drive My Car’ takes place over a period of several days in the life of an apparently average couple. Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), actor and theater director, is married to the beautiful screenwriter Oto (Reika Kirishima). They lead a seemingly happy life in their immaculate apartment in the heart of Tokyo. But looks are deceiving. When Yusuke comes home earlier than expected one day, he discovers that Oto is cheating on him with the much younger television actor Koshi (Masaki Okada). Yusuke feels deeply moved, but decides not to confront Oto about the affair. Instead, he is silent as the grave, and their ordinary existence slips quietly on. Then one day Oto suddenly dies of a brain haemorrhage and Yusuke is left alone. After her death, he is left with many unanswered questions.

Two years later, the still grieving Yusuke is working on a theater production of Anton Chekhov’s ‘Uncle Vanja’. Normally he travels independently in his red Saab 900, but for insurance reasons the festival management forbids him to drive to work himself. Reluctantly, he is assigned a driver – quiet twenty-three-year-old Misaki (Toko Miura). At first he doesn’t like his new travel companion, but during the film it appears that Yusuke and Misaki both struggle with a similar grief. This creates a bond between the two, which gradually grows closer. Yusuke finds in Misaki the sympathetic ear he had been missing until then and regains a measure of happiness in his life. A step forward, but the road is still long and uncertain.

‘Drive My Car’, based on Haruki Murakami’s short story of the same name, is an impressive story. Ryusuke Hamaguchi manages to evoke a calm but determined atmosphere with his film. The film hovers between the meditative and the contemplative. The images are just as important here as the dialogues. With great patience, Hamaguchi unfolds a mysterious story that repeatedly raises questions and which for a long time is characterized only by misty premonitions. Despite the rather long running time of almost three hours, the film never gets boring, as Hamaguchi constantly leaves his audience with new riddles, while at the same time creating an interesting picture of some highly complicated characters.

In the first place, ‘Drive My Car’ is a study of loneliness and grief. Yusuke has been consumed with feelings of insecurity and regret since Oto’s death. The woman he thought he knew so well feels like a stranger, and his once stable life has no clear direction. Gradually, Yusuke reflects on all the possible scenarios that a man in his position can be aware of. Has he done something wrong as a husband? Did he fall short somewhere in his marriage? Did he and Oto love each other at all? Yusuke agonizes over questions that he will most likely never get an answer to. The film reminds us how you can never really know someone completely, and how the focus on memory versus truth can turn into a form of obsession.

Misaki is the person who helps Yusuke deal with his heartbreak. Gradually, an important connection is created between the two. This is done bit by bit, without feeling forced. At first they are mostly silent with each other. These silent moments are mainly filled by playing cassette tapes with Yusuke’s theater texts. Misaki listens in the front seat, and Yusuke listens in the back seat. Gradually, however, this reticence gives way to conversation. Misaki is subdued and humble, so the conversations aren’t particularly astute. But that in itself does not matter, since Misaki more than completes her function with this. Sometimes comforting is more important than reinventing the wheel.

Fans of fast and concise films will probably not enjoy ‘Drive My Car’. This is in fact a patient film that does not rely on flashy images or rapid editing, but rather on subtle emotion and controlled camerawork. The film shows with beautiful images how someone is cut off from reality by his past and how he learns to really experience the world again for the first time. Hidetoshi Nishijima and Toko Miura star in the sky and Ryusuke Hamaguchi is a director with a name to remember. ‘Drive My Car’ is well-made cinema and without a doubt one of the best films to be released in the Netherlands in 2022.

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