When I typically watch a film that I plan to review, I takes notes to remind myself of important themes or a memorable line. However, I was so entranced by the world director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi had created that my notebook entry for Drive My Car is practically blank. The characters’ sensual heartache pervades the film and makes it practically impossible to look away from the screen.
At the heart of that sexually charged pain lies Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishjima), a famous stage actor/director who finds his life disrupted by the sudden absence of his wife Oto (Reika Kirishima). All that remains of Oto is a cassette tape of her reading the lines for Chekov’s play, “Uncle Vanya”. Yûsuke plays this tape on a loop in his red Saab 900 Turbo, trying to maintain a connection to the woman who left him. It’s this attempt to keep the last ember of his relationship alive that kickstarts the emotionally raw experience of Drive My Car.
The narrative environment Hamaguchi creates is not one with cheap editing tricks or a blaring score used to dictate one’s emotional response to the film. Instead, long, unbroken takes allow audiences to connect with these characters on a level of intimacy not unlike Yûsuke’s ties to “Uncle Vanya”. The subtle anguish of Nishjima’s performance contains more acting complexity than any “method actor” performance this year. Hamaguchi even breathes life and complexity into the simplest of objects: A racy schoolgirl story, a mid-sized automobile, a cassette tape, a buring cigarette. They all have the emotional heft of Frodo throwing The Ring into Mount Doom. In fact, the third act is undeniable proof that Drive My Car is an impeccable epic like Lord of the Rings, except Hamaguchi’s film grandness comes not from spectacle, but from a layered understanding of human experience.
Yield to the text and respond to it.Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishjima)
Yûsuke’s advice is not limited to the acting world. This one line highlights the essential role that art plays in our society. Art has the power to express what can never be spoken; to bring our greatest hopes and fears bubbling up to the surface. If you submit yourself to Drive My Car, you too will feel the overwhelming nature an artistic piece can have on your emotional state.
The Silver Lining
While Hidetoshi Nishjima’s Yûsuke is the acting highlight of Drive My Car, Hamaguchi’s script gives every performance the ability to shine. From Yusûke’s driver, Misaki (Tôko Miura), to the the mute actress, Lee Yoon-a (Yoo-rim Park), every single character is layered and has at least one emotionally riveting monologue. It is the combination of Hamaguchi’s deeply personal writing and the actors’ committed performances that makes Drive My Car one of the best ensembles of the year.
Drive My Car expands to select locations this Friday, December 10th. Click here for a full listing of screening locations