A Sala Llena

#TIFF21 | Drive My Car

Barely four years ago, almost no one knew of Ryusuke Hamaguchi, director of Drive My Car.

Everything started in 2018 when France discovered him, by integrating Asako I & II into the Official Competition of the Cannes Film Festival. Simultaneously, on that very month of May and over three weeks in a row, it marked the release of Happy Hour, his immediately prior film made in 2015. In France it was released with the title of Senses, with a running time of more than five hours, divided in three parts (1 & 2, 3 & 4 and 5).

2021 marks the year of Hamaguchi’s consolidation, given that the Silver Bear (Grand Prix) of the Berlin Film Festival went to Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.

In the latest edition of the Cannes Film Festival (July 2021), Drive My Car, a new film by Hamaguchi, competed in the Official Selection and though perhaps deserving of the Palme D’Or, had to settle for the Best Screenplay award, as well as the distinction handed by FIPRESCI.

Drive My Car is an extensive film, with a three hour running time, which despite not being divided into chapters, has them implicitly assumed.

The first one, accounting for a quarter of the total running time, ends up with the opening titles, which usually appear at the beginning or the end of any film. There we are introduced to Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), one of the main characters, a stage actor and director, who is staging a Japanese version of Anton Chejov’s Uncle Vanya. Kafuku’s wife, Oto, is unfaithful. He finds out about it when, after being informed at the airport that his flight has been suspended, returns home and sees her having sex with Koji Takatushi, one of the young actors in his cast. The lovers cannot sense his presence and he prefers to go to a hotel at the Narita Airport.

The action moves forward a week later; the week where two events of great significance in his life will take place. The first is a car accident where he almost loses his sight and the second is the death of his wife because of an unexpected brain hemorrhage.

The second “chapter”, the most extensive, occupies half the film and is the one that gives meaning to the film’s title. Is when Misaki (Toko Miura) appears, the young lady who with his car will drive around Hiroshima, the place where Uncle Vanya will be presented. The producers assign him a house on a neighboring island, ideal for him to be inspired. It can almost be affirmed that the ninety minutes this travel lasts make for a whole story, bearing the most substance of the film as a whole.

On one hand, there are the rehearsals with a cast of around ten actors, one of which is none other than young Koji, ignoring Kafuku knows about the affair with his wife. What is noticeable (and different) about the Japanese mentality is there is not a desire for vengeance, as it will be verified in the dialogues of both male characters.

On the other hand, the relationship between Misaki and Kafuku will not be exactly laid out the way a westerner film would. The driver’s simplicity contrasts with the actor’s cultural and intellectual line of thought, and however there is something that unites them: the pain of several personal losses, which the audience will discover. A car ride to Northern Japan (Hokkaido), where she is from, will result very revealing for Kafuku.

In the middle of this intermediate segment, the film will reach a significant emotional peak when something that was hidden is discovered and involves one of the actresses in the cast. She is beautiful, with an amazing talent and warmth. She is also deaf mute (great singularity).

The last chapter sets up a moment of a certain dramatism when the play’s opening night is at risk of being cancelled. There, the image of Oto, the deceased wife, will reappear and, at some time, that distressing absence will be filled by the affectionate company of Misaki.

Drive My Car is a film based in a story by Haruki Murakami. Surely both Hiroshima and the less Japanese Hokkaido were locations chosen, not out of chance, by Hamaguchi. The 42-year-old director was already revealed to the Argentine audience at the 2018 BAFICI. All it takes is for a local distributor to decide and acquire Drive My Car, a major work of Japanese Cinema. 

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