Drive My Car Image

Drive My Car

By Ray Lobo | November 13, 2021

AFI FEST 2021 REVIEW! Drive My Car, written by Takamasa Oe and director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, catches up with stage actor/director Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) after his wife, Oto (Reika Kirishima), suddenly dies. She used to record lines of dialogue for his upcoming performances on cassette tape, and Kafuku would ritualistically rehearse them while driving. After her death, this ritual continues, as if Oto’s voice is the only thing he has left of his deceased love.

The quite serious Kafuku is demanding of everyone around, especially the actors working with him. So it probably goes without saying, but he is not much of a people person and does not feel comfortable with anyone else driving his car. However, after he gets recruited to direct a production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima, he learns of the theater’s strict policy restricting the talent from driving. To make matters worse, he has advancing glaucoma. Kafuku is assigned a quiet, young driver, Misaki Watari (Toko Miura), who is exceedingly accommodating and self-sacrificing. But, there’s something in her past that she is unwilling to talk about. Kafuku casts Kôji Takatsuki (Masaki Okada) to play the lead role. It winds up that these two have a sordid history that dates back to when Oto was still alive.

Kafuku is assigned a quiet, young driver…”

Hamaguchi paces the story with a steady hand, which allows the seemingly surface-level drama to reveal the true depths of its mysteries. A three-hour movie can only work if the viewer is invested in both the narrative and characters. Oe and Hamaguchi fulfill their end of the deal by impeccably converting literary giant Haruki Murakami’s short story. There’s not a single line of dialogue that is waste or feels superfluous.

The acting ensemble in Drive My Car excels in fulfilling the other end. Every cast member is superb. Every emotional beat resonates, and not a single facial expression feels false. This goes for the leads as well as the supporting actors. Toko Miura is able to convey a quiet power that draws the viewer in and makes one want to know more about her past. All the actors prove most talented, no matter how small or large their role.

The layering of multiple narratives on top of each other invites the viewer to reflect upon the numerous themes at play. The drama touches upon notions of one’s own identity, whether we can ever know another’s true identity, and the role of secrets in even the most intimate of relationships. Drive My Car also invites audience members to reflect upon the act of driving. Many of the most important sequences occur inside a moving vehicle. If driving is a metaphor for life, then sometimes our lives will flow smoother when we loosen our grip on the steering wheel, hand control over to a trusted chauffeur, and enjoy the ride.

Drive My Car screened at the 2021 AFI Film Fest.

Drive My Car (2021)

Directed: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi

Written: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Oe

Starring: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Reika Kirishima, Toko Miura, Masaki Okada, Yoo-rim Park, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Drive My Car Image

"…every cast member is superb."

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