Movie Review: Drive My Car
A Tale of Art Imitating Life
“If we hope to truly see another person, we have to start by looking within ourselves.”
Movie Cast: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Toko Miura, Masaki Okada, Reika Kirishima
Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Movie Rating: 4.5 stars
Streaming Platform: MUBI
Drive My Car, an Academy Award winner, directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, and adapted from Haruki Murakami’s titular short story is a mysterious tale of love, loss, grief - all coalesced into a serene 180 minute film.
Murakami being a huge Beatles aficionado, the story has not only been named after one of their songs, it also follows the wistful route usually associated with their music.
Ryusuke himself deals with themes closely intertwined with those of Murakami: identity, alienation, and intimacy as well as the power of art; thus making them the ideal pair to create an enigmatic film such as this one.
A broad-shouldered girl, a grief-stricken man, and a vintage red Saab
Set in the quiet hills of Hiroshima, the film is grounded in how its simplicity juxtaposes with the complexity of human emotions. Hamaguchi allows us to experience his storytelling, not simply through conversations, but more subtle facial movements and backdrops.
The film deals with a relevantly simple plot line: Kafuku, the protagonist, stumbles upon his wife’s infidelity shortly before she unexpectedly dies from a cerebral haemorrhage. His grief is clouded by his desperate need to know what he lacked, and this ends up in him crossing paths with his wife’s lover under the pretext of a stage production of Uncle Vanya. Both men, although polar opposites, pose a common question - “can any of us ever perfectly understand another person? However much we may love them?”
Adding onto this is the equation Kafuku shares with his chauffeur, Misaki Watari, and how through their conversations - the red Saab 900 becomes a meditative space for confessions, regrets, and revelations.
Uncle Vanya, a revered novel by Chekhov is an important text that has been sublimely fused with the narrative of the film. As the story progresses, similarities between Uncle Vanya’s character and that of our male protagonist, Kafuku, seem to blur.
Another interesting element of the film is how it presents a melange of languages that include, but are not limited to Korean Sign Language. Theatre is a huge part of the film, and its protagonist, Kafuku, is an actor with a penchant for the unconventional. He goes so far as to head a play with a diverse cast, where each actor performs their part in their native language. Representation, thus, is integral not only to Hamaguchi, but also to the roots of the film.
The life of the film lies in the details, and in the powerful narration that stays with you long after the credits roll out. Art has the power to resurrect suppressed emotions, and this is where Chekhov shows its relevance. “Chekhov is terrifying. When you say his lines, it drags out the real you.”
The most powerful ploy deployed by Hamaguchi, one that is entirely amiss in Murakami’s original short story, is that of dramatic irony. The themes of Uncle Vanya merge with the infidelity which is central to Drive My Car, giving the film a very Shakespeare-esque appeal.
The relationship between Kafuku, and his chauffeur - Watari, is a portrayal of the power strangers hold in our lives, and how conversations have the power to sway us in inexplicable ways. Each haunted by their own demons - through the course of the film, they learn to lean on each other, and eventually find comfort amidst the ghosts of their past.
The closing monologue of Uncle Vanya, performed entirely in sign language is layered heavily, the lines: “And when our last hour comes we’ll go quietly. And in the great beyond we’ll say to Him that we suffered, that we cried, that life was hard.” are reminiscent not only of the play, or even the film, they resonate deeply with human afflictions, and tug at the heartstrings of every individual that has personally experienced grief.
This contemplative film is subjective in the sense that one might either get lost in the abyss of Hamaguchi’s universe, or be stilted by its solitude.