How Drive My Car uses Beckett and Chekhov to redefine storytelling
When we first meet Drive my car Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), he is mounting a production of Samuel Beckett’s absurd tragicomedy Waiting for Godot, a play that follows two men who anticipate the arrival of an enigmatic and ineffable character named Godot, who never ends up showing his face. May be Godot is a work on uncertainty, disappointment, madness; or maybe it is hope, or God, or war. The truth is, during his lifetime Beckett refused to provide a definitive answer to what Godot really represents, and now, 30 years after his death, the question remains in our minds.
But, let’s face it: this elusive character is exactly what’s so fun about the play. Godot is a transformer. A chrysalis full of possibilities. A Freudian ideal that says so much more about its audience than about itself or someone else. And for Yusuke, Godot represents the possibility of telling stories. Storytelling is an integral part of Yusuke’s life. He of course plays a big role in his successful career as a stage director, and he even goes to great lengths to exploit the possibilities of the medium by staging multilingual versions of classical works. But storytelling is also the main connective tissue between him and his wife, TV screenwriter Oto (Reika Kirishima), who weaves fantastic threads while they have sex, drawing closer to a fully developed story with each encounter. . When Oto unexpectedly dies one night from a brain aneurysm, Yusuke’s relationship to storytelling changes dramatically. He is no longer GodotIt’s Vladimir or Tarragon, standing on a country road, brimming with possibilities. Instead, he now only knows how to look back: return to the idyllic life he had with his wife who was shattered by an untimely death, and to the questions he never asked her about his lovers. secrets.
And so, two years later, Yusuke decides to stage an adaptation of the realistic play by Anton Tchekhov. Uncle Vanya, the pivot takes on its full meaning as a reflection of the trajectory of his career as a narrator. Vania follows a quartet whose intertwined lives lead the main character to become hyper-aware of his own mortality and regrets. In this direction, Vania is sort of the inverse of Godot– the first being a story permanently turned backwards, while the second looks forward with curiosity.
Yusuke’s new relationship with his own existence doesn’t just manifest through his art. Before he starts to repeat Vania in Hiroshima, the company he works with assigns him a driver to bring him back and forth in his beloved bright red Saab. The driver in question is Misaki Watari (Toko Miura), a low-key young woman with whom, despite Yusuke’s initial resistance, he discovers a real connection. As the two pass through Hiroshima, they discuss their one-on-one relationship with the loss. Yusuke tells Misaki about the death of his wife and, a few decades before, the death of their young daughter. Misaki tells Yusuke about her abusive mother, whom she left to die when their house was crushed in a landslide, a choice she now deeply regrets.
In a film rich in scenes and productions, the Saab turns out to be the centerpiece. It should be noted here that the Haruki Murakami short story that the film is based on takes place almost entirely within the confines of this car. Where Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s adaptation weaves into episodic meditations on our protagonist’s home and professional life, Marukami allows all the information necessary for us to understand Yusuke – and for Yusuke to understand himself – to manifest in the form of ‘a conversation with a relative stranger.
Whichever form it takes, it’s an odd choice, by any means, to have a story about infidelity, loss, and creation so clearly centered on a simple ride. This is exactly where Godot reappears in the film’s narrative. Like Drive my car progressing, the Saab inadvertently begins to portray a new Godot-like character to our struggling protagonist, allowing his life to take on a new form within its walls, just as the very idea of Godot shows Vladimir and Estragon what to do with it. they really aspire. At first, his and Misaki’s conversations mirror those of Vania, all pointing inward and backward. He tells her how, on the day Oto died, she said she wanted to talk to him about something, and he never got to hear what it was. Even two years later, he is still gripped with regret at this missed opportunity. This feeling rings true for Misaki, who connects it to the regret she feels about her relationship with her mother.
But as long car trips multiply, Yusuke and Misaki are able to see their regrets as possibilities. Misaki helps Yusuke reframe his relationship with Oto not as a lost opportunity, but as one that could help him engage more closely with his art – and possibly possibly take on the role of Vanya without fear. This manifests itself, in particular, when Yusuke asks Misaki to show him where his childhood home was destroyed. There, Hamaguchi films the landscape from wide angles, infusing the location with possibility, as opposed to the suffocating remorse that Misaki once associated it with.
There is a direct correlation between Yusuke and Misaki visiting the ruins of the latter’s childhood and the former deciding to play the role of Vanya himself. Yusuke had previously cast Koji Takatsuki (Masaki Okada) as Vanya, although Koji was at least a decade too young to play the role. This choice of casting testifies, in large part, to Yusuke’s fear of aging in oblivion and his desire to return to a past still rich in possibilities. By re-imagining Vanya as someone who still has his life ahead of him, perhaps he can also re-imagine the role’s hopelessness.
But Koji also represents a more personal element of our protagonist’s past: in the first act of Drive my car, Yusuke arrives on Oto having sex with a younger man, who, from our brief glimpse, is more than likely Koji. After his wife’s death, Yusuke befriends Koji in an effort to unravel the mystery of his late wife. Despite his efforts, their relationship sheds light on Oto. Instead, it brings Yusuke closer to a new version of himself, a truth that is illuminated on a car ride he and Koji do together. They discuss Oto, but, despite the decisive confrontation that takes place in the Saab, no real resolution is reached, further recalling the stunted plot of Godot and its ethereal ability to help focus the desires of its protagonists.
In one of his conversations with Misaki, Yusuke explains his complex relationship with acting. He says that once he’s immersed himself in a role, it’s extremely difficult for him to reappear in his real self. This is why, for the majority of Drive my car, he refuses to entertain the idea of playing Vanya. Already tormented by regret and abandonment, he believes a performance like Vanya would be impossible to return. But when Koji is arrested and cannot play the part of Vanya, Yusuke, emboldened by the recontextualization of the loss that Misaki’s car has brought him, decides to play the part. The final image of Drive my car sees Misaki entering Yusuke’s Saab. We don’t know where she’s going – which version of Godot she’s chasing and likely will find, unlike Vladimir and Estragon who waited for Godot to come to them – but we do know it could be anywhere. At one point, Yusuke asks, “What should I do with my life and my love?” Hamaguchi looks like you just have to take it and move on, away from the rubble of an abandoned house, to a new relationship with the past.
Aurora Amidon is a film journalist and avid Hostel: Part II advocate. Follow her on Twitter for her latest questionable views on culture.