DIRECTOR: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi

CAST: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Tôko Miura, Masaki Okada, Reika Kirishima, Paku Yurimu, Jin Deyon, Sonia Yuan, Satoko Abe, Perî Dizon, An Fite

RUNNING TIME: 179 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: A grieving theatre actor (Nishijima) is assigned a young driver (Miura) to transport him to a directing gig in Hiroshima…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

If you read the above logline for Drive My Car and are thus going in expecting a Japanese variation on Green Book or Driving Miss Daisy, then you are sorely mistaken. Sure, the premise of someone bonding with their driver is similar to the films that once upon a time won Oscar’s biggest prize, but the comparisons stop right there and then; instead, director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s film is a slow, thoughtful and tender drama which explores both the grieving and creative processes as essential, yet oddly cathartic, ways of dealing with personal tragedy.

It is also a very, very long film, running at almost three hours long, with the opening titles kicking in around the half-hour mark, following an extended prologue. Needless to say, if you have concentration issues, then you may struggle with this slow-burn drama, which at times I’ll admit that it was hard to stay invested – but by the end, I was at least glad that I saw it.

Said prologue introduces us to accomplished theatre actor Yūsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), who shares a complex relationship with his wife, TV screenwriter Oto (Reika Kirishima). On the one hand, their bond is signified by erotically conveying ideas for stories whilst being intimate, but on the other hand she is casually cheating on him which he is all too aware of. Two years after an unfortunate tragedy, Kafuku travels alone to Hiroshima to direct a multi-lingual stage production of Anton Chekov’s Uncle Vanya, where due to strict company policy he is forced to allow a driver to transport him in his old but treasured red Saab 900 car. The driver chosen for him is a young woman named Misaki Watari (Tôko Miura), who naturally turns out to be more than she seems, and the two eventually form a unique connection that gets them through their respective grievances.

The lengthy running time is bound to be contentious for a lot of viewers, especially as it adopts a very slow-burn pace that has the capacity to frustrate more than it entices. Hamaguchi’s film, based on a short story by Haruki Murakami (which, to further show how stretched this movie feels, lasts only 40 pages), contains a loose narrative comprised of lengthy vignettes, from awkward script readings to pleasant dinners, all of which are allowed to play out for as long as Hamaguchi feels they need to. Those used to a more compressed style of storytelling might feel out of place with Drive My Car, because it is a film that does not care to rush towards its eventual point, and often meanders to a point where you start to consider what the point of the entire movie is.

However, within that overlong running time are scenes of quiet, underplayed greatness that do stick out and hold your attention. The opening half-hour prologue features soothing monologues about a character’s idea for a story, revolving around a girl who sneaks into her crush’s house to masturbate, whilst scenes of raw intimacy are shown, which is later followed up by a haunting continuation of that story which adds greater depth to a seemingly innocent story. The performances are solid throughout, and sell the underlying emotion that these characters, particularly the main two, are keeping locked and out of sight within their own souls, with some thoughtful dialogue expanding on a number of key issues that should resonate with anyone going through some type of grieving process. It is also interesting to see this production of Uncle Vanya be developed, with the casting of actors with different languages including one who speaks exclusively in Korean sign language, some of whom you want to see a little bit more of as they try and comprehend their director’s rather odd indications.

While Drive My Car is certainly a good film, I would personally stop short of calling it truly great, only because it really is a film that requires your full, undivided attention throughout its three-hour runtime, which can be tricky when it’s already operating with such a loose narrative. It isn’t a film for those who prefer more compressed forms of storytelling, but if you do have the stomach for it then there are some truly strong emotional rewards that make it profound enough to leave you feeling mostly satisfied.

Plus, for any car enthusiasts out there, it’s an extremely effective feature-length advert for the retro Saab 900 vehicle. That’s got to be worth something, at the very least.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Drive My Car is an emotionally complex drama that explores differing levels of the grieving process through a very human story, but its overstretched three-hour runtime on top of a slow-burn pace may make it difficult for some viewers to get truly lost in.

Drive My Car is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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