“A renowned stage actor and director learns to cope with his wife’s unexpected passing when he receives an offer to direct a production of Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima.”
Director: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi
Writer: Haruki Murakami (short story), Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Oe
Staring: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Tôko Miura, Reika Kirishima, Masaki Okada
Release Date: November 24, 2021
Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is a well renowned theater actor and director in a unique marriage with his wife Oto Kafuku (Reika Kirishima). His way of life and understanding of himself is shattered when he discovers her dead of an unexpected brain aneurysm.
The story flashes forward a few years and Kafuku is directing a play that very coincidentally explores many of the emotions that he closes off to himself and others. The only thing that Kafuku openly cares about is his car, his private space. He enjoys driving it and being isolated with his scripts-on-tape, but this safety net of silence is scratched when this new job hands his a driver that he must utilize. The driver is Misaki Watari (Tôko Miura), and throughout this three hour story she is omnipresent as we learn more about Kafuku and what makes him tick.
The dynamism of this character study is spotlighted most when Kafuku is working with a young man by the name of Kôshi Takatsuki (Masaki Okada). The sick twist is that just says before Oto passed away, Kafuku saw her cheating on him with Kôshi. They never spoke of it. He lived with and we learned that it was not an uncommon occurrence. Even if it is the norm, it is not an easy thing to real life. Kafuku casts Kôshi in the play he is directing because he is genuinely strapped for options, so he must confront this awkwardness everyday.
The most heartbreaking scene in Drive My Car comes when Kafuku and Kôshi shares a car ride in the back of his vehicle. Kafuku is telling Kôshi that his wife used to tell him stories that she was writing or thinking of after they had sex. Kafuku is retelling the story but is sad that Oto did not get to finish it. Then the hammer drops. Oto told Kôshi the end of the story. He knows how the story ends. Kafuku does his best to hide his emotions as he always does, but how can he not feel betrayed and broken in this moment. The blessed moments he had with his wife, the moments that he thought were truly his own, are being sharing with everyone she had a fling with.
Kafuku let Oto live her life and let her have this flings with her acting partners because he knew it stirred her creative process. He allowed this to happen because he trusted in something special between them. However this trust is broken now, and he can not possibly repair it because Oto is not there anymore to talk to. The only one he can truly talk to is his chauffeur, Misaki Watari.
Misaki has to pass many different trust tests with Kafuku and by the end they have a relationship very similar to siblings rather father/daughter. There is a tenderness to the way they shatter barriers and beginning talking about aspects of their lives they’d never expect. Kafuku begins to look at his past and current life in a different way, and we see that manifest tangibly with the way he behaves in his car. After Kafuku hears that Kôshi knew how Oto’s story ended, he shares a cigarette with Misaki while sitting in the passenger seat…two things that he once thought blasphemes
The story of Drive My Car is profound and depressing. In the end, while everyone is able to move on with their lives, the audience knows that the characters won’t ever be the same. Three hours worth of quiet conversations results in a loud powerful punch. Many critics I have read or listened to cite how Drive My Car is a visually striking movie, but for myself it is the story that carries the movies weight.
Drive My Car is nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best International Film and Best Directing. Personally speaking, I have Drive My Car in three categories in my own personal Oscars: Best Actor, Best International Film and Best Adapted Screenplay.
STANKO RATING: B+ (4.0/5 Stars)
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