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MOVIES: Drive My Car - Review

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Adapted from a short story of Haruki Murakami and turned into an almost three hour feature, Drive My Car is the best movie of the year. A real discovery – Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s last film, Asako I & II, was one of the highlights of 2019 – but Drive My Car is next-level good, his best work thus so far and cements his status as one of the most exciting directors working in cinema right now – a meditative process on grief and the reflection of the memory of those that we lost, it explores finding the goodness in people whilst learning to accept their flaws.

I love movies that take a considerable amount of time to set-up their opening title crawl (see Long Day’s Journey Into Night) and Drive My Car does that with it not kicking in until we’re forty minutes into the movie – it introduces us to an extended prologue where we focus on the waning relationship between Yusuke Kafuku, a theatre director, and his wife, a writer. Kafuku turns up to their house to find his wife dead after she promised she’d finally tell him a secret – not knowing that Kafuku has already walked in and seen her cheating on him. It’s a bleak start, especially as Kafuku’s only solace and escape from society is his car – a red Saab – which he can no longer drive due to a combination of eye problems and theatre production rules – is stripped away from him, forcing him to pair up with Toko Miura’s Misaki, an introverted woman during his stay in Hiroshima for a theatre festival and the production of Uncle Vanya – Anton Chekov’s play, whose lead character can both be an idealist and a crank – a perfect description of Kafuku’s mindset, running parallel to his struggles.

This film explores solidarity within strength and the preservation of hope in the fear of the unknown – especially relevant given that it was made in the COVID-19 pandemic, and the movie touches on the impact of it briefly but respectfully, showing its lead characters wearing masks while shopping. Although the main focus is Kafuku coming to terms with his new outlook on life and the journey that he has to undergo to get there, the film does an excellent job at depicting the secondary characters who are the actors that Kafuku casts. We see them going through the audition process with people from multiple nationalities who can speak multiple languages – a hearing sign-language user, and a hotshot young actor with a temper all help the play feel multicultural – as Kafuku has to work with the actors to get them on the same page as the production deadline draws closer. Frequently we get to see the supporting cast outside of the play and in their element – where the film peels back the layers and shows you who they truly are – but it’s Misaki who is the most important figure of the cast, a natural driver with a past that comes to light as the movie progresses.

The refined sensibility of Hamaguchi has never been richer; the sombreness and reflectiveness of it all takes its times to explore its themes – those watching Succession will know that the leads in that show are frequently at their most vulnerable when in the backseats of moving cars, which is often – but Drive My Car uses that as a way to showcase it superbly. The cityscapes are beautiful, presented here in lavish detail in both night and day, the film captures the loneliness and the need for expression when on long drives – the fact that this film is as quiet as it is nothing short of a marvel, resisting the urge to delve into melodrama even when there are plenty of chances that it had to do so.

It says something about the true variety of cinema in that my favourite movies of the year are 179 and 73 minutes long respectively (the other being Celine Sciamma’s Petite Maman). Never has the need to restrict movies to a two hour runtime felt so redundant.

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