Japanese writer Haruki Murakami enjoys a cult status among the readers of the 21st century. Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi undertook the mammoth task of adapting his short story ‘Drive My Car’ into an eponymous film. The result is soul-feeding and visually breathtaking. The film has an unmistakable life force in it that is contagious.
A creative duo of husband (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and wife (Reika Kirishima) likes to share stories with each other – the wife narrates and the husband listens, occasionally providing his inputs. Behind this seemingly ordinary act there is a tragedy. They go about the motions of life carrying a sense of loss within them. The wife is a former actress and the husband is a theatre actor-director. They should have been the perfect couple. Unfortunately, they aren’t.
In one of the early moments of the film, the husband – Mr. Kafuku – plays one half of the odd duo of Waiting for Godot on stage. Hence the feeling of meaninglessness of life and the dull existence of humanity is established very early on in the film. However, the film in itself never gets dull, even for a moment. In the silent moments, breathtaking cinematography overtakes our senses. The camera beautifully captures the peaceful co-existence of modern architecture and natural beauty of Japan.
The opening credits roll only after the first forty minutes indicating that the protagonist Yūsuke Kafuku is all set to embark on a new journey in his life.
The omnipresence of the idea of death in the story is a constant reminder that life is precarious and every moment – good, bad or worse – is significant. Apart from Mr. Kafuku, every second character in the film has witnessed the death of a dear one.
The dialogues of Anton Chekov’s Uncle Vanya are so skillfully assimilated into the narrative that it almost threatens to give rise to a new genre of storytelling/screenplay. The latter part of the film introduces the character of a professional driver – Misaki Watari (Tōko Miura) – who adds a new lease of life to the film. She also has experienced the death of someone close to her. The other subplots in the story include a mute dancer-actor, a dramaturge-translator and a young actor (Masaki Okada) with a penchant for sleeping with his female work partners.
Hidetoshi Nishijima delivers a minimalist performance coupled with a brooding temperament to maximum effect. His red car is an extension of his personality. In the course of the film, he is forced to employ a driver – an act which meant giving the reins of his life to someone else. However, it was a necessary change to resolve his internal conflicts and forgive those who wronged him, intentionally or unintentionally.
One cannot stress enough the excellent cinematography of the film. Drive My Car won the best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival 2021 and is vying for an Oscar nomination in the Best International Film category. It should make the cut.
Review by David Lagachu
Queeruru’s newest Correspondent lives in India “I am constantly trying to find a perfect balance between academia and my love for writing about films, pop and queer culture. I consider myself a global citizen and would love to be a part of a significant history of mankind.” i@maglobalcitizen