courtesy C&I Entertainment

“Drive My Car” a film worthy of its length

In Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car,” actors speaking different languages navigate communication, grief and human connection

“Drive My Car,” a 2021 film directed by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, is a long contemplation on grief and communication. Hamaguchi adapted the screenplay from various stories in Haruki Murakami’s collection “Men Without Women,” primarily the story with the same name as the film.

The film follows actor and stage director Yūsuke Kafuku as he leads an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” Kafuku had previously played the lead in “Uncle Vanya,” but finds himself unable to after a traumatic event. Kafuku’s actors deliver their lines in a variety of languages, including Japanese, Chinese and even Korean Sign Language.

The varying languages spoken by the actors creates barriers between them, such as when a conversation at a dinner table has to be translated from Japanese to Korean and then to Korean Sign Language. However, once these barriers are surpassed, the characters find deep connections despite only recently meeting each other.

The theater company producing Kafuku’s play doesn’t allow him to drive his own car, assigning him a driver instead. Initially, Kafuku is cold to his driver, Misaki Watari, seeing her as invading his meditative place of solitude. However, Watari and Kafuku slowly bond throughout the movie over their shared experiences of grief and guilt. Despite being nothing alike in age, gender or wealth, the two form an intense understanding of each other.

Both Kafuku and Watari’s experiences are complex and require lengthy dialogue sequences to fully express. These extended conversations always feel natural and never outstay their welcome. Kōji Takatsuki, one of Kafuku’s actors, also has an extended conversation with Kafuku, though his eyes gaze directly at the camera, as if he is instead talking to the audience. His monologue reveals personal connections to Kafuku’s wife that throw the aging actor into a reconsideration of his relations.

Kaufuku’s titular car that Watari drives, a bright red Saab 900, becomes the setting for these intimate conversations. The driving sequences in the film, particularly the long journey to Watari’s hometown, are a perfect addition to the slow, contemplative atmosphere of the film. The cherry Saab provides a blast of color in otherwise desolate environments.

The penultimate scene of the film, the performance of “Uncle Vanya,” has its final lines delivered through Korean Sign Language in complete silence. Despite direct communication coming only from subtitles, the monologue is still able to give life-affirming optimism. Kafuku’s grief is overcome on the stage in a flurry of expressive motions and facial expressions.

The length of this film might put off some potential viewers–the opening credits don’t roll until about 40 minutes in, and there’s still more than two hours left at this point. However, I would implore anyone skeptical to take the plunge on the movie. Few films are able to capture human connection on such a deep level as this one.

“Drive My Car” has already received widespread acclaim from critics and has been shortlisted for the Best International Film, with some critics arguing for a Best Picture nomination. However, despite “Parasite” winning Best Picture two years ago, the Oscars are still certainly slanted to favor American, English-Language films. Hopefully, “Drive My Car” will be an exception.

“Drive My Car” is currently showing in Tulsa’s Circle Cinema.

Post Author: Justin Klopfer