Photo | “Drive My Car” – Bitters End
The Oscar-nominated “Drive My Car” is a complex and delicate masterpiece, but it is three hours long and subtitled, so you’d better buckle up (sorry). The character development is meticulous, realistic and leisurely, which are nice words for “slow,” but if you stick with this Sunday drive of a film, the experience is worth the time.
This film takes a deep dive into the complicated life of a man named Kafuku, a stage actor living and working in Tokyo with his wife, Oto, who is a screenwriter. They are a close couple, but they are also haunted by a terrible loss. “Drive My Car” delves into their personal relationship, but what makes it such a special film is the in-depth depiction of their creative processes. Through the years that the film covers, Kafuku practices his lines in his red Saab with a recording of the other parts that Oto made him. It is an act of love and an act of creation.
The relationship between husband and wife is complex and full of secrets, and when Oto (spoiler!) dies suddenly, Kafuku cannot simply mourn her. Her unacknowledged infidelities and their shared pain hang over him.
As Kafuku, Hidetoshi Nishijima is wonderful; he is understated but expressive, and his rumpled demeanor speaks volumes as he perseveres in the years following his wife’s death. When the story picks up two years later, he is traveling to Hiroshima for a theater festival to direct a multilingual version of “Uncle Vanya,” the Chekhov play that he rehearses throughout the film.
As “Drive My Car” delves deeper into Kafuku’s play, the film becomes even more engrossing. Based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, it bears that author’s cerebral signature. The layers of depiction are fascinating; we are watching a film about rehearsing and performing a play, based on a short story. But the play rehearsals are not just a plot point. It is the basis of the emotional business of the film.
I am fascinated by depictions of the artistic process, whether writing a song or performing or writing a novel. This film spends more time and care on showing an artist’s life than any I can think of. As Kafuku and the actors rehearse their play, the film also introduces the character of a quiet 20-something woman named Misaki, played by Tôko Miura. At the theater conference, none of the talent is allowed to drive, so Kafuku cannot drive his beloved Saab himself. Misaki is assigned as his driver and slowly they become friends, sharing their lives in the confined, intimate space of the car.
Misaki has her own difficult past and over time, she confides in Kafuku. With both characters facing forward in the car, they confide in one another, and the slowly won emotional catharsis is worth the wait. As the characters meticulously unspool, the film remains incredibly compelling and I could have watched the rehearsal process forever, which it felt like I did, but in a good way.
Just like the experimental production of “Uncle Vanya,” this film is complex and ambiguous, wordy, deliberate, character-driven and masterful. It earns every revelation, and it deserves every minute. If we can spend three hours with “The Batman,” we can spend three hours with this film. It is truly a journey, and the destination is nothing less than a deeper understanding of human nature itself.
“Drive my Car” is now streaming on HBO Max.
New This Week:
“Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”: In Marvel Studios’ “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” the MCU unlocks the Multiverse and pushes its boundaries further than ever before. Journey into the unknown with Doctor Strange, who, with the help of mystical allies both old and new, traverses the mind-bending and dangerous alternate realities of the Multiverse to confront a mysterious new adversary. All multiplex theaters, Nexus Cinema Dining.
“The Duke”: In 1961, a 60-year-old taxi driver steals Goya’s “Portrait of the Duke of Wellington” from the National Gallery in London. He sends ransom notes saying he will return the painting if the government invests more in care for the elderly. Starring Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren. Crescent Theater.
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