If man is endowed with judgment and creative force, it is to multiply what has been given, and yet, until now, far from creating anything, what you are doing is destroying…(Uncle Vania, Anton Chéjov)
It is from the loss that the characters of Drive My Car (2021) build their lives. Director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (Happy Hour, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy) crafts a subtle yet sharp drama that uncovers layers in each of its characters to engage the audience with all of their senses. There is much that Hamaguchi wants to tell us, and his characters have plenty of depth, but there is no rush. The slow and energetic rhythm takes us through those three hours of footage without us noticing the passing of the seconds.
The first thing we see is Oto (Reika Kirishima) sitting on the bed, but we can only discern her silhouette thanks to a splendid backlight that surrounds her. She tells her husband Yûsuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima) of her dream, as he lies peacefully in bed and gazes at her in fascination. Then the routine. Getting ready for work, driving to work, and getting tired with the habit. Yûsuke is a renowned actor and theater director while Oto works for a television network writing scripts. Before the title of the film appears on the screen and the credits roll, 41 minutes have already passed, and we feel that we have seen the prequel to the story that will unfold from that moment.
The red car
The script for Drive My Car is based on the homonymous short story by Haruki Murakami. It is when Yûsuke accepts the responsibility of staging Chekhov’s play, Uncle Vanya, at a festival in Hiroshima, that the story begins to become more complex. Misaki (Tôko Miura) becomes his driver and once their lives intersect it is impossible to separate the similarities that unite them. Without knowing it, the mature director will find in this reserved and lonely young woman a soul that harmonizes with his own.
The director who has everything in control, the man who had organized his life down to the last detail little by little loses control and must let go so as not to succumb to the weight of the grief. From the driver’s seat he becomes a passenger in the rear. As Misaki drives his precious 1987 Saab 900 Turbo through the streets of Hiroshima, Yûsuke begins to connect with his feelings and see his life from a different perspective. Letting go of the wheel and letting himself be guided begins to heal wounds and find a purpose beyond the routine.
What Hamaguchi builds with Drive My Car is cinematographic poetry. From the lens of Hidetoshi Shinomiya (Wet Woman in the Wind, Farewell Song) we see the rebirth of broken characters who walk the path to light and an inevitable catharsis. The music of Eiko Ishibashi (The Albino’s Trees) perfectly adorns the constant journeys of Yûsuke and Misake, as well as their internal journeys, filling the eloquent silences with notes that adjust to the emotional state of the protagonists.
It is common today to find perfection in technique, but when the trade leads to mastering each of the elements of cinematographic language and is combined with impeccable performances and an unbeatable staging and a story with the ability to transcend time without deteriorate, then we are facing a work with the lineage of a masterpiece.