Combustible Celluloid
With: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Tōko Miura, Masaki Okada, Reika Kirishima, Park Yoo-rim, Jin Daeyeon, Sonia Yuan
Written by: Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Oe, based on a short story by Haruki Murakami
Directed by: Ryusuke Hamaguchi
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Japanese, English, Korean Sign Language, German, Mandarin, Tagalog, Korean, Indonesian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 179
Date: 11/24/2021

Drive My Car (2021)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Gear and Now

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A masterful, meditative achievement, this Japanese drama uses every bit of its three-hour running time to find subtle nuances, and to sharply define characters by use of the empty spaces around them.

Yūsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is an actor and director, married to screenwriter Oto (Reika Kirishima). One day, he catches her cheating with a young actor, Kōji Takatsuki (Masaki Okada), but says nothing. Not long after, she dies of a cerebral hemorrhage. Two years, later, Kafuku goes to Hiroshima to direct a production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, a play he recently performed in.

Due to a rule of the theater, Kafuku isn't allowed to drive himself, so he is assigned a driver, the young Misaki Watari (Tōko Miura). He objects, insisting that driving is part of his work routine, but Misaka's stoic nature and skill behind the wheel convince him. Over several weeks, rehearsals begin, and Kafuku's relationships with both the actor and the driver begin to change in unpredictable ways.

Directed and co-written by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, and based on a short story by Haruki Murakami (whose work also inspired Burning), Drive My Car frequently relies on things unspoken.

For example, Kafuku decides not to say anything about his wife's infidelity, and she mentions, on the morning of her death, that she'd like to talk to him about something; the subject is never revealed. The tapes that Kafuku listens to in his car, a recording of Uncle Vanya, read by Oto, with only Vanya's speaking parts left blank, are likewise rooted in silent spaces. When Kafuku asks Misaki to show him her favorite part of Hiroshima, she begins by taking him to a garbage refinery, where the falling trash reminds her of snow.

But spoken stories also resonate, but with the caveat that the words themselves, are unimportant, so long as the emotions behind them are true (juxtaposing the idea of meticulously learning lines for a play). The movie begins with a strange, sad, beautiful story, created by Oto during sex with her husband, that comes into play again later, and changes.

When, finally, characters do begin to reveal the truths of themselves, it feels like a great tumbling out, but even so, beautifully modulated by Hamaguchi. He never loses touch with the movie's tone or themes, even for a second. His visual schemes, especially the weird lines of the rehearsal room, mesh perfectly as well. Drive My Car is a movie that contains multitudes, worth sitting through more than once and worth pondering for longer still.

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