A rewarding journey on the road trip of life

The opening credits of “Drive My Car” do not begin until after the film has completed 40 minutes. It is a daring gesture, a stake in the ground. But that fits the vibe of his quiet drama, which takes its time unpacking its story and the lives of its characters.

At that 40 minute mark, there is still little indication of where “Drive My Car” is ultimately heading. It’s a three hour journey that addresses grief and loss, the healing power of art and the roads we all travel in life. And it’s a ride worth taking.

Director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, who also co-wrote the screenplay (it’s based on a short story by Haruki Murakami), directs the story with patience and grace, and films it using simple, lackluster visual language. Its characters live, breathe, and smoke cigarettes on long car journeys, and it all unfolds in such a calm, meditative way that when it finally hits you, it lands like a mighty punch.

In a steely and powerful performance, Hidetoshi Nishijima plays Yûsuke Kafuku, a famous actor and theater director who is married to Oto (Reika Kirishima), a screenwriter who gets his ideas and expresses them aloud after sex. . This is a fruitful and creative partnership and marriage, although not entirely faithful, as Yûsuke learns when he comes home one day to find Oto in bed with another man. .

The case remains unanswered and when Oto suddenly dies, Yûsuke swallows it, absorbs it and moves forward. Two years later he took a job in Hiroshima, where he directed an ambitious multilingual stage production of Chekov’s “Uncle Vanya”. In the title role, he plays a young television actor, Kôji Takatsuki (Masaki Okada), the same man he saw – unbeknownst to Kôji – sleeping with his wife.

Yûsuke plays with both Kôji and is his tutor, and their relationship blossoms into something strange and intimate. It overlaps with Yûsuke’s art, as life imitates and informs his work, and gains new layers of meaning along the way.

And then there is the case of Yûsuke’s pilot, Misaki (Tôko Miura, in a very controlled performance). Yûsuke prefers to drive alone in his dear red Saab, enjoying the loneliness of long car journeys where he listens to old audio cassettes of his wife reading his plays in the role of his stage partner. But when he was hired for the job in Hiroshima, he was assigned a driver as a non-negotiable condition of his employment. Misaki does her job silently and against her will. But over time, her bond with Yûsuke grows and her past comes to form the emotional foundation of the film.

“Drive My Car” is calm and moving, anchored by exquisite performances by Nishijima and Miura, and enriched with a sense of nostalgia and forward propulsion by director Hamaguchi. It shows how art can act as a balm and how the pain of our past shapes who we are today. But these are not points of arrival, just road signs that we pass as we hurtle down the long road ahead.

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‘Drive my car’

NOTE: B +

Uncategorized: sexual situations, adult themes, smoking

Run Time: 179 minutes

In theaters


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