A renowned stage actor and director learns to cope with his wife's unexpected passing when he receives an offer to direct a production of Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima.A renowned stage actor and director learns to cope with his wife's unexpected passing when he receives an offer to direct a production of Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima.A renowned stage actor and director learns to cope with his wife's unexpected passing when he receives an offer to direct a production of Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima.
The long prologue introduces us to three of the four heroes of the film. Yusuke and Oto Kafuku are a couple of theater artists. He is an actor and stage director, she was once an actress but the tragedy of losing a little girl many years ago determined her to leave the stage and the screen. Becoming a screenwriter, she finds inspiration during the couple's sex parties, when, as if in a trance, she invents strange and romantic stories, which she reconstitutes with her husband the next day. Maybe to break the routine, maybe to complete her inspiration, Oto cheats on Yusuke with the young actor Koji Taaktsuki. A possible explanation between the two is prevented by the sudden death of the woman. Two years later (and after the late film's opening credits), Yusuke and Koji meet in Hiroshima, where the director puts on stage 'Uncle Vania' in a bold style with an international cast, and chooses his former rival for the lead role. It's a counter-casting, but not the only one. The two share the longing for the woman they loved, each holds a part of her in his memory and tries to overcome the pain and loss by understanding what is missing. A fourth character, Misaki Watari, appears, a young woman the age that Yusuke and Oto's daughter would have had if she had lived. Misaki will drive Yusuke's exotic red Saab car, as festival rules prohibit the director from driving it during his contract. There is a long process of mutual acquaintance between the mature man and the young woman. It is not just a coincidence that they could be father and daughter, and perhaps both are unconsciously looking surrogates. In each of their biographies there is a death for which they feel they have a share of responsibility, and only by helping each other will they be able to overcome.
The association with Chekhov is not accidental. Murakami is a complex writer, the characters he builds live dramas from which the writer, the reader and the viewer can extract thoughts about the meaning of life. The biographies intersect and influence each other, but in the end only the strongest characters manage to break through. The lead hero chooses to stage 'Uncle Vania' because the play requires actors to get involved and brings to the surface through the characters their inner feelings. The entire section of the movie dedicated to the selection of actors, rehearsals and the three shows (one with 'Waiting for Godot' and two with 'Uncle Vania') demonstrate deep understanding and passion for theater and an organic integration in the main story, in the good tradition of the films of Ingmar Bergman or Istvan Szabo. The team of actors who play many roles of actors is perfectly chosen and directed.
The film has a fifth hero, and this is a collector's car, a red Saab. It is a precious object, obsolete but loved by the married couple of theater people, kept with care and nostalgia by the widowed man. It is also a car a bit unadapted to local conditions, with the steering wheel on the left side in a country where you drive on the left side of the road. But aren't the characters similarly misfit to the environment, with their fascination with European culture, and isn't that true even for Haruki Murakami, perhaps the most European of the great writers of Japan today? Film lovers can't help but notice that 'Drive My Car' becomes by the end a road movie and that the film is part of a series of recent productions in which cars play a significant role, including the French film 'Titane', another of the outstanding productions of 2021.
'Drive My Car' is a complex and interesting film, but it is not easy to watch. The three hours (without a minute) of projection are difficult to justify and do not pass easily. Maybe this is intentional and the director Ryusuke Hamaguchi wanted the audience to share the feeling of the difficult passage of time that the heroes live. And yet, many of the scenes give the feeling of repetition or unjustified lengthening of the frames, in almost each of them I had the feeling that one third could have been cut and the film would have been more focused and its essence easier to assimilate. With two quality films that have captured the screens of the most important international film festivals of 2021, Hamaguchi becomes one of the Japanese directors whose films I will watch with great interest in the coming years.
- Mar 24, 2022