A movie so sexy, dramatic, gripping, and original, it’s impossible to resist.
“Drive My Car” opens with the screenplay writer wife Oto (Reika Kirishima) telling her stage director husband Yusuke Lafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) a script idea about a teenage girl, who is in love with another student. She doesn’t want him to know about it, and so she sneaks into his house to learn more about him, while struggling to resist the urge to masturbate. And she also reflects on her past life when she was a lamprey. These scenes really set the mood of this Japanese import from writer/director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, who crafts a complex story about life with vivid characters worth knowing about. They’re actors, screenplay writers, and drivers, and they’re drawn with radiance and poignant tones that makes them leap off the screen. And the way Oto tells Yusuke her story is really quite sexy.
Yusuke was happily married to Oto, until he secretly catches her having sex with a younger man named Koji (Masaki Okada). When he returns home from a theater festival, he ends up in a car accident that gives him glaucoma in his left eye. And a while ago, they also lost their little girl. Yusuke’s life is now in a sad state, which is why he speaks to his cassette that his wife records for him in his red Saab 900. And to make matters worse, when he returns home, he finds Oto dead.
About his stage career, he’s currently presenting the Japanese version of the Russian play “Uncle Vanya,” and he practices his lines in his car with a tape his wife recorded for him. 2 years later, he gets the play right on track with actors speaking in different languages, and begins the auditions, but as policy for the theater festival that hired him, he’s given a driver named Misaki Watari (Toko Miura). At first, he’s reluctant to have her, but as time moves forward, he learns to connect with her.
The actors in the upcoming play include Koji (Oto’s lover if you recall), who wants to learn more about Yusuke’s wife, and the mute Lee Yoon (Yoo-rim Park), who is set to play Sonja. She can hear people, but still has to use sign language, which works on a delicate tone during the rehearsals and performance. And Koji was told by Oto about how the teenage girl’s story ends. An ending her husband never got to hear.
“Drive My Car” runs for three hours long, but there are moments of pure authenticity regarding the stage plays, screenplay ideas, and auditions, and there’s more to life outside the entertainment world like infidelity, loss, grief, and adapting to new surroundings. There’s more to it than meets the eye, and it’s screenplay, based on a short story, is one of the year’s most provocative and original.
The performances are uniformly excellent as they are pure and sincere. Nishijima knows the stakes when his character tries to balance his work and life, Miura keeps a delicate and easy tone as the driver, Kirishima has her devious tastes as the wife, and Okada uses the right monologues.
The ways the main protagonist handles the play reminded me of how Michael Keaton’s character was tackling Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” in “Birdman.” It balances fiction with nonfiction, and it excels in allowing these characters to adapt to their own basic natures.
The final moments of “Drive My Car,” which I won’t spoil for you, are powerful and absorbing in the questions about if the director and his driver are at their own faults about their own turmoils. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi makes this movie look and feel like a work of art.
In Select Theaters This Wednesday