What do you get when one of Japan's most promising directors adapts a work by one of Japan's most acclaimed writers? A realistic tale of grief that draws the viewer into the lives of the characters on screen.
Drive My Car is an adaptation of Haruki Murakami's short story of the same name, which follows Yusuke Kaufuku, an actor and theatre director struggling to cope with the loss of his wife. He accepts to direct Uncle Vanya at a theatre in Hiroshima, where he meets Misaki, a young woman who is appointed as his driver, who over time confess the guilt and grief that they are both feeling.
The film is driven by excellent performances from the two lead actors, especially Toko Miura (who notably featured on the Weathering With You soundtrack) as the shy and expressionless young driver, who warms to the grieving Kaufuku.
Something that is present in most of Hamaguchi’s work, is the realism that he depicts on screen. Throughout the film we see long conversations take place in almost real time, especially in the titular car, as we see the characters grow closer and start to overcome their emotional stress.
We also experience the film in a series of languages, as Kaufuku is directing a multilingual play which includes Japanese Korean, Mandarin, and Korean Sign Language. We see how the actors communicate and act with each other, without being able to verbally understand what the other is saying, and shows that a lot can be translated through our actions.
Drive My Car premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival in competition for Plame d’Or, where it went on to win Best Screenplay, FIPRESCI Prize and Ecuminial Jury Prize..
Before the screening Hamaguchi featured in a short video where he mentioned one glaring difference between Murakami’s story and his adaptation - the original story was 40 pages long, whereas Drive My Car clocks in at just under 3 hours. Whilst by most films standards this would be considered long, but for Hamaguchi this is almost considered short, with one of his previous films, Happy Hour, owning a runtime of over 5 hours. However, Drive My Car never feels like it is dragging to fill that time, there are no filler shots of unnecessarily long sequences. It is all done to bring realism into the stories, and take us along the journey with the characters so we can see their thoughts and actions in almost real time.
Drive My Car is a near perfect display of grief and guilt without having to create drama or action points to get the message across, keeping in line with Hamaguchi’s other work. And it won't be long before we will be able to see another of his films with Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy set to be released in a matter of months.