Ryuske Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car makes 3-hours fly as he adapts Haruki Murakami with a sharply written, intimate, and fervid piece on grief, self-acceptance, and sin.
Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is a prosperous stage actor, and director married to a playwright, Oto (Reika Kirishima). When Oto dies suddenly, he is left with many unanswered questions about their relationship and regrets about her. Two years later, still unable to cope with the loss of his wife, Yusuke accepts to direct a play at a theatre festival in Hiroshima. First, however, he must comply with the festival rules and let Misaki Watari (Toko Miura) drive his red Saab 900. And so, the journey begins.
I know I said this is an adaptation of Murakami’s Men Without Women, but it works more as a visualization. It is a mirror of the mind as it deals with grief while hanging on to that regret of not understanding your partner with many layers attached to it. It also crosses paths with the healing processes of past experiences, deceit, and the clarity of existence. Everything goes hand in hand with one another, yet the way it’s structured makes the punch more substantial, even though it is fine-drawn.
Its first act is treated as an introduction to the pain Yusuke is dealing with; like in some of Gaspar Noé’s filmography, there is a credit sequence after the first act that tells us that this is the end of one story. We are now headed to the tale of how to seal a broken heart back together after losing the only person you have ever loved. He battles his inner demons with a sword, while parrying the guilt he feels with a shield. The sword is the illusion of him knowing his wife better than anyone; the shield is that he actually doesn’t know her or himself at all.
As it switches through dialogue schemes, the intertwining of what people say as a person or what they say while playing a role, we get to know these characters piece by piece. The secrets unravel, and the inner demons haunt like a ghost story. Existence is already a grim tale, but Hamaguchi doesn’t treat it as such. Instead, it is more of a discussion on how we are the way we are and the reasoning behind the necessity of knowing why we are like that.
The indie-rock band Big Thief has a song called “Humans” from their album Masterpiece, in which the lyrics resemble some of the themes being covered in this film. “Humans in the honest light; love is a cold infection.” The characters in this film are vulnerable in different ways with their relationships, whether it is a husband and wife or a man and his chauffeur. Their defenses drown little by little until there is nothing left for them to hide behind. It is like beguiling yourself to try and make things better, but in reality, you are just lost to love.
This is my first Ryusuke Hamaguchi movie and it was a great way to start his filmography. Although it has a long runtime that might drive away some audiences, it undoubtedly tackles such heavy topics with ease and tranquility. Drive My Car is more of a road trip than a joyride. One that lasts long and brings us tough questions regarding how the bonds you make in life function and if knowing someone ultimately matters at all in the end.
Hector Gonzalez is a Puerto Rican chemical engineering student and film critic with a great passion for cinema, award shows, 1960s music, and the horror genre. Some of his favorite films are RAW, Eyes Without a Face, and The Green Ray.