Per Matt
Guilt, grief, redemption and a haunting sense of loss is great in Drive My Car, the official Japanese entry for Best International Feature at the 94th Academy Awards, but action movie this is not. In fact, this nearly three-hour dialogue-heavy feature film by Writer-Director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi is filled with so many gut-wrenching emotions, I couldn’t watch it all in one setting. After finishing the film in two sessions, I’m still drained.

Renowned stage actor Yûsuke Kafuku (played by Hidetoshi Nishijima) was already unhappy with his marriage. As an emotionally unavailable man, his communication skills were limited, at best. Overcoming his young child’s death was one obstacle but catching his wife (Reika Kirishima) sleeping with multiple young men and not saying anything about it is something else, altogether. But before they can hash things out, Oto suddenly dies from a cerebral hemorrhage.

Two years later, Kafuku is still having problems moving on from his suffering. Beginning a two-month residence in Hiroshima and unhappy to have a chauffeur driving his prized possession, he eventually accepts Misaki Watari (Tôko Miura) into his life, much like he did with his late wife’s cheating ways.

Through auditions of Uncle Vanya, which he’s directing, Oto’s young lover reappears. Not only does Kôji Takatsuki (Masaki Okada) earn a spot in the play, but he’s cast as the lead character (a role which is usually played by Kafuku).

Will the two men bond over a mutual lost love or will the tension be so high that the show simply cannot go on?

As an adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story of the same name, Drive My Car has a powerful story, but it will wear you out by its conclusion. At one point there’s a unique connection linking sex and screenwriting, but I was more interested with the interactions between Kafuku and Watari.

He eventually learns they have much in common. Both are quite solemn characters and more importantly, they both end up learning how to let go of their painful pasts. It just takes each one a little longer than necessary to reach that goal.

“Those who survive keep thinking about the dead. In one way or another, that will continue…”

Drive My Car features many long-panning shots involving Kafuku’s favorite car (it’s a Saab 900 Turbo, and the real star of the film, BTW). It is his prized possession. It’s his sanctuary while living on the road. And it’s his primary connection to the past, which he holds onto tightly. It could also be one of the main reasons he’s suffering so much.

But let’s return to the dialogue.

There’s plenty of tension between these characters, but I cannot state how tired I was after reading three hours of subtitles. And that includes the performance of a multilingual play involving actors speaking in English, Cantonese, Japanese and Korean sign language. (The play is incredibly innovative, although I don’t know how successful it could be in America.) My television’s subtitles are always turned on whenever I’m at home, but even I wasn’t prepared for this one.

What I’m trying to say is there’s a lot to read here, while trying to unpack these characters’ painful truths. It’s definitely an emotional journey involving love, loss, acceptance and peace. I enjoyed it, but the movie’s slowly developing pace almost rocked me to sleep.

That won’t matter in the long run, as the film is quickly winning many awards, including Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival, Best Film (among others) by the National Society of Film Critics Awards and most recently, Best Motion Picture awarded by the Golden Globes.

Drive My Car is nominated for Best International Film by the Music City Film Critics’ Association and awards shows (especially the Academy Awards) simply love patting themselves on the back. Movies about filmmakers generally win many trophies. I expect Oscar to soon show some international love for this film. Will it become the next Parasite?

You should definitely see what all the fuss is about and judge Drive My Car for yourself.