Film Review: Drive My Car is a purposeful drama that’s devastating in its beauty

Only weeks ago Drive My Car would have been considered the best film you’ve never heard of.  Now, with a deserving Best Picture Oscar nomination to its name, it’s hopeful that the same enthusiasm and appreciation that drove Parasite to glory two years ago can be transferred to this foreign-language gem.

A Japanese drama that runs at almost three hours admittedly isn’t the sexiest hook for audiences, but Ryûsuke Hamaguchi‘s film is so incredibly rewarding and enthralling that its extended running time is never truly felt; this is masterful storytelling from beginning to end.

I’ll also preface this review with the fact that despite the “Drive” in the title, this isn’t a fast-paced, action-driven film.  There’s literal driving – in the travelling sense – and metaphorical driving for lead character Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), as he navigates a new life following the death of his wife, Oto (Reika Kirishima), someone he knew was unfaithful to him but couldn’t muster the energy or the courage to confront.

The red Saab 900 that Yûsuke drives every morning to the theatre where he is directing Checkov’s “Uncle Vanya” is both a vehicle and a route he holds close to his chest; he likes the extended drive so he can run lines, a practicing technique he has incorporated his wife’s vocals into as she “recites” lines back to him.  The Russian play is one he hopes to stage in different tongues, including sign language, and the choice for him to hire the volatile, unpredictable Takatsuki (Masaki Okada), who we suspect was having the affair with Oto, as his lead suggests a more soap operatic temperament will be adopted.  But, of course, we should know better than that.

Adapted from Haruki Murakami’s acclaimed 2014 short story, Drive My Car is just as much about the space between the lines as it is the words themselves, with this most prevalent through the gradual relationship between Yûsuke and young Misaki (Tôko Miura, just glorious).  Due to a company policy that extended back to a fatal car accident, Yûsuke’s employers insist that he be driven by a chauffeur – Misaki – and whilst their initial dynamic is one defined by her silence around him, they eventually form a connective link through the tragedies they have both suffered; Yûsuke’s involving his deceased wife and the ghostly inspiration she still imparts through her involvement in his art, Misaki’s relating to the loss of her family home, a story she shares when driving him to her mountain village.

Everything about Drive My Car is so specific and purposeful.  Much like the measured understanding the actors have of their characters within “Uncle Vanya”, Hamaguchi devotes time and attention to the creations of Yûsuke and Misaki.  They become wholly realised people, more than just celluloid characters, and the ultimate effect is devastating in its beauty.


Drive My Car is screening in Australian theatres now.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.