For people who love it, driving can be about control.
Effortlessly zooming down vast tunnels, driving through highways and passing by cities at night. Feeling like, in that moment, you have a sense of authority over what happens in your life. Nothing can stop you. But sometimes, we can quite literally crash. Life often takes what is most treasured of ours when we least expect it, stealing the wheel away from us. We realize our hands no longer control the steering wheel.
In Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film Drive My Car, aging, widowed actor Y?suke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) has a difficult time coping with the loss of his wife, Oto, who was a screenwriter. For Y?suke’s, who has dealt with so much loss and grief, driving is something that gives him a sense of control. It’s a thing in his life that he can take complete ownership of, which makes it all the more compelling when he has to let go of that feeling in other areas of life. Two years after the passing of his wife, driver Misaki (Toko Miura) is ordered under contract to drive him from rehearsals during a theatrical production. At this point in his life, Y?suke has accepted to direct a play adaptation of Uncle Vanya, a process that takes him on an emotional journey through his own grief.
As director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s excellent, emotionally introspective story goes on, the idea of control in the wake of loss becomes so much more complex. The deeply beautiful and poetically rich screenplay (adapted from Haruki Murakami’s short story) pulls the viewer into the story, despite its three hour runtime and slow burn approach. Many lines of dialogue in the film, like the opening sequence with Oto conceiving her story ideas during sex, reveal the different ways people use art to cope in life. Like Y?suke’s unlikely connection that forms with Misaki as they both discover what brings them together, Drive My Car doesn’t leave anybody behind when it comes to character development.
Drive My Car is not a film about reassurance so much as it is about being understood and the way that tragic pain in life gets mirrored through the human connections that grow out of our most desperate situations. Through the theater production that the main character Yûsuke directs, the film brilliantly explores the relationship between the art we create and our own selves. The audience largely watches the actors that Yûsuke has cast participate in table reads, and the progression of watching the play come together parallels Yûsuke’s re-discovery of life. The audience ends up learning so much about the characters through subtext and the way they approach their roles in the play, which really drives home the film’s themes about grief being portrayed in art.
Some of the film’s most memorable and engaging scenes are just watching conversations happening in cars – the dialogue drives so much of the story here. In one particular scene, Y?suke and Misaki both open up to each other with anecdotes about personal trauma. The script knows when to sparingly allow characters to tell their own stories in order to make them hit home more effectively when they do. But visually, the film also creates a very vivid and realistic world through the cinematography and editing that doesn’t allow cheap tricks to get in the way of fantastic storytelling.
From its exhilarating and necessary forty-minute opening prologue to its emotionally resonant finale, I cannot recommend Drive My Car enough, both for its understanding of the way life can hurt us and leave us behind, and for its exploration of how long grief can take over everything we do. And in some instances, grief never stops keeping up with us, only a step behind our every next move.
Matt Minton is a first-year writing for film, TV and emerging media and writing double major. They can be reached at [email protected].
Art by Julia Young.