Drive My Car has been tipped as a surprise winner at the Oscars, and could definitely speed away with the best picture gong.
The film is directed and co-written by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, and follows Hidetoshi Nishijima as theatre director and actor Yûsuke, whose life takes a swift turn when he comes home from a trip to find his wife, screenwriter Oto (Reika Kirishima), cheating on him, before sneaking back out of their home.
Tragedy ensues shortly after and he is left a widower – all of which takes place in the first 40 minutes, before the credits have even appeared.
He is given a job as a director at a festival in Hiroshima two years later, putting on stage production Uncle Vanya with a string of talented stars – including Kôji (Masaki Okada), the man he found Oto cheating with previously. On taking the job, he learns that he will be assigned a driver, Misaki Watari (Tôko Miura), to take the wheel of his beloved red Saab, something he is initially wary of but eventually relents to.
Through the safe cocoon of their long drives, the pair embark on a close friendship as they open up about the lives they have left behind.
There is something unbelievably soothing about the world that Ryusuke has built inside that car, not only for the characters themselves but for viewers. It manages to bring us in and feel safe enough to share our darkest thoughts, feelings and memories, much like the two leads.
Hidetoshi Nishijima plays Yûsuke (Picture: YouTube)
The majority of the film takes place inside the car (Picture: YouTube)
Hidetoshi offers up an acting masterclass in the lead role, giving a gripping, stoic but sensitive portrayal of Yûsuke as his life crumbles before him. He keeps this up throughout and never lets that mask slip – even when Kôji’s reflection of Oto in the backseat of his car leads the audience to tears.
His slow-building bond with driver Misaki is simple but beautiful to watch, from their quiet rides around the streets of Hiroshima to the cross-country road trip they embark.
The credits rolling after the half-hour mark, when Yûsuke and Oto are already well established to the viewers, proves that Ryusuke isn’t abiding by anyone else’s rules in order to satisfy his vision.
However, with a run time of three-hours, there is no denying that it is a commitment and there are times that it feels overly long. Some of the rehearsal scenes seem overly repetitive, which leads to an inside joke between the play actors.
And, having spent the aforementioned three hours watching his every move, studying every turn of the wheel and rooting for his success, the ending leaves many question marks over Yûsuke’s fate that we demand are answered.
Drive My Car feels like a slow, soothing look at a man leaving his demons in the rear-view mirror, and we’re lucky enough to tag along for the journey.
Drive My Car is in cinemas now.