A film about secrets between partners
Drive My Car tells the story of a man’s grief following his wife’s sudden passing. The film is based on a Haruki Murakami short story of the same title, from his anthology Men Without Women. This film earned three awards at the Cannes Film Festival and has three Academy Award nominations, including a nomination for best director for Ryusuke Hamaguchi.
In the first part of the film, we are acquainted with the quiet intimacy of Yusuke and Oto Kufuku’s and their creative work. Yusuke, played by Hidetoshi Nishijima, is a theatre actor, and Oto, played by Reika Kirishima, is a television screenplay writer. We are introduced to the confined space of Yusuke’s red Saab and his method for learning his lines — reciting them in the silences of cassette tape recordings his wife makes for him. But returning from work one day, Yusuke learns of a secret his wife was keeping from him. From then on, their relationship shifts, becoming noticeably icier. One day, Yusuke returns home from work to find Oto collapsed on the floor, having suffered a cerebral hemorrhage.
The second part jumps to two years later, when Yusuke is invited to direct a production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya for a theater festival in Hiroshima. He reluctantly accepts the position after learning he would be assigned a driver named Misaki Watari, played by Toko Miura, to drive his red Saab for him for the duration of his residency. On their commute to and from rehearsals, Yusuke and Misaki are forced to confront their pasts and work through the guilt and grief they each carry, aided by the lines of Uncle Vanya recited by Oto on the cassettes in the same space of the car.
This slowly unfurling drama is well worth its nearly three-hour runtime. The intrigue keeps the viewer hooked, as we watch the actors get challenged from learning their lines, developing their characters, and building new relationships outside of rehearsals.
The visuals of the film are strikingly minimalist, highlighting the little red car on the roads against the monochrome grey of the cities. The scenes of the car driving and the long shots of its occupants lulls viewers to contemplate Chekhov’s lines or the silences between them, leaving nothing but the hum of the engine. Despite the silences, the stories Yusuke tells, and that Oto has left behind, come to unveil and unpack the past for him as he is confronted by the secrets Oto kept.
Drive My Car is showing in Ottawa this week at the Mayfair Theatre.