Drive My Car (Ryusuki Hamaguchi, 2021, Japan)

With a film as successful as Drive My Car, it is tempting to look for weaknesses. The film won three awards at the Cannes Film Festival, including Best Screenplay. It earned four nominations at the Academy Awards - including Best Picture (the first Japanese film to have been nominated for Best Picture) - winning Best International Film. It became the first non-English film to win Best Picture from all three of the main US critics' groups. The film has launched director Ryusuke Hamaguchi into the pantheon of great international directors like Almodovar and Bong Joon Ho. 

The three-hour-long drama tells the story of Yusuke, a stage actor who has an unusual creative relationship with his wife Oto, who relates her stories to him during sex. Yusuke finds out Oto is having an affair with a younger actor. Soon after, Oto dies of a brain aneurysm. We fast forward to the future, where Yusuke is leading an international production of Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima. Because he has been diagnosed with glaucoma, Yusuke is forced to have a driver - Misaki. Meanwhile, the younger actor is hired as part of the production. Things play out in an unanticipated way, and Misaki and Yusuke begin to bond. 

While there is not much to speak of in terms of the actual plot, the film has an almost hypnotic quality to it. Yes, it is a film attempting to make broad statements about grief and how we cope with it, but the film manages to do so in a way that is neither cloying nor too pretentious. Overall, Hamaguchi's film is simply a pleasure to watch and the running time is not too burdensome. While it is perhaps not a masterpiece, it is certainly worthy of the accolades it is receiving, especially for Yusuke and Misaki's performances.



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