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Drive My Car

Synopsis:
After his wife’s unexpected death, Yusuke Kafuku, a renowned stage actor and director, receives an offer to direct a production of Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima. There, he begins to face the haunting mysteries his wife left behind.

A renowned theatre actor opens up about his wife's death as he is driven around Hiroshima in . Yusuke Kafuku () is a veteran actor who has a unique relationship with his screenwriter wife Oto (). One day Otto suddenly dies, leaving Yasuke without closure about the state of their marriage. Two years later, a theatre festival in Hiroshima hires Yusuke to direct a stage production of “Uncle Vanya.” Due to the strict festival rules, Yasuke agrees to be driven around the island, flaming red Saab 900, by a young chauffeur Misaki Watari (). It is during these drives when Yasuke opens up about his relationship with Oto and the regrets he has after her death.

Drive My Car is a drama directed by Japanese filmmaker Ryûsuke Hamaguchi based on the short story by Haruki Murakami. The film's lengthy opening prologue depicts veteran actor Yusuke Kafuku and his relationship with his wife Oto. The couple lost their child two decades ago and hasn't been the same since. Despite the passionate nature of their relationship, with Oto getting the stories for her screenplays during sex, the relationship had unresolved issues, with Oto dying on the day she was going to make an admission to Yusuke.

Still grieving Oto's death after two years, Yasuke takes a job directing a production of “Uncle Vanya” and gives the titular role, which Yasuke previously played himself, to young actor Koji Takatsuki (), who has an unwelcome previous connection to Oto. In between long days of rehearsals, Yasuke is driven around by young but experienced chauffeur Misaki, with Yasuke's red Saab 900 becoming a confessional for Yasuke to express his feelings about Oto's death.

Running at just under three hours in length, Drive My Car takes its time in developing its story, spending approximately 45 minutes alone on the first act prologue. However, the film develops into a quite affecting meditation on grief and regret, particularly in the second half of the film when Yasuke moves away from practicing his lines, using an old take recorded by Oto, to actually talking with both Misaki and Koji about his relationship with his late wife.

Arguably the key scene of Drive My Car is an extended conversation between Yasuke and Koji inside the car, where the latter ends up reciting the ending of the final story Oto told Yasuke. The sequence is the climax of building tension between the two throughout the film. Then there is an extended road trip in the last act of Drive My Car, with Yasuke desiring to see the remains of Misaki's childhood home, which was destroyed in a landslide.

At its core, Drive My Car is a film about stories, whether it be the plot of the play being performed or the tales told during the love drives across Hiroshima. Despite the film's long length, Drive My Car still ends up being a quite memorable cinematic experience.

Trailer for Drive My Car

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Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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