DRIVE MY CAR
February 25, 2022
This film about individual stories behind people involved in theatrical and cultural productions also speaks to Japanese society’s encounter with all things foreign and unsettling.
Drive My Car: a 2021 Japanese film by director Ryusuke Hamaguchi, who also wrote the script. It has already won several prizes, notably at the Cannes Festival of 2021, and at the recent Golden Globes, and is nominated at the 94th Oscars for both Best International feature and Best Picture.
The film tells of the events of a few years in the life of a successful theater director and actor, Yusuke Kafuku, who loses his wife and theater partner Oto to a brain hemorrhage, shortly after he has found that she was having an affair with a young actor, Koji Takatsuki, at the time he is directing the French play En attendant Godot.
Years later, Yusuke, while he is given the direction of the Russian play Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima, unexpectedly chooses the young actor who had an affair with his deceased wife, Koji Takatsuki, to hold the lead role.
While in Hiroshima, during the play, the two men meet accidentally in a local bar, and Koji, the young actor, tells of his love for Yusuke’s deceased wife. There is sadness, but also acceptance on Yusuke’s part.
Much of these personal twists and turns are spoken to in traveling in Yusuke’s red Saab, driven by a young female assistant who was given the responsibility of chauffeuring the director in Hiroshima, where he had to assume later the leading role of Uncle Vanya, taking young actor Koji’s place, who had faltered in the leading role (of Vanya), the Russian uncle, following accusations of improper conduct he was facing.
The film was generally considered as a film on grief, love, and loss, as a “hypnotic …journey into the human heart and soul” (Jane Freebury), or as a “celebration of the dirtiness of life”, as James Luxford put it in Dirty Movies.
The film may also go beyond its obvious treatment of individual traumas and challenges, at least according toThe Movie Shrink.
THE MOVIE SHRINK’S TAKE
Of course, the film is about the twists and turns of individual life experiences, in this case in a Japanese cultural setting.
What strikes The Movie Shrink is that almost all the cultural objects of the film, including the German auto Saab, seem to be foreign and imported. It is true of the French play, En attendant Godot and the Russian play Uncle Vanya, the two plays that are important in this portion of Yusuke’s life.
Of course, this simply reflects worldwide globalization and multiculturalism. It does so in a Japanese context, in a country not traditionally open, economically but also culturally, to imports. But here, in this film, cultural imports are plentiful and crucial, though the plays that are on stage, even in the director’s personal car (a German-made Saab). One would think that Japanese cars would offer enough choices to consumers. The foreign car does seem to have some importance in the film.
Beyond its individual dimensions about individual sharing, like Yusuke who had to share his wife’s love with young actor Koji, national cultures have to share with one another.
The coexistence between the local and the international reflects all the finesse and the nuances of the Japanese culture, that we can first find in the individual interactions, as the film suggests.
The title of the film, Drive my Car, says a lot about the collective story behind the individual one. We are in our car, but not necessarily driving it by ourselves.