One of the many films to captivate audiences at this year’s Cannes Film Festival was Drive My Car where it won three awards including Best Screenplay. Adapted from Haruki Murakami’s short story of the same name from his 2014 short story collection Men Without Women, Drive My Car follows stage actor Yūsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) who is hired to direct an upcoming production of Uncle Vanya following the sudden death of his wife. The film is a whopping three hours long and because of this, the original narrative of the short story has been extended thoroughly to create a story so detailed, that watching it is like being on a long and relaxing car journey.
Directed by renowned visionary Ryusuke Hamaguchi who cowrote the script with Takamasa Oe, Drive My Car is an exceptional character piece that really allows the audience to delve into Kafuku’s life in riveting detail. The simplicity of the direction and Hamaguchi’s knack for long conversational scenes allows the film to develop at an organic pace serves Drive My Car well and feels like a breath of fresh air in a current climate where filmmakers feel the need to rush their characterisation. This film is proof that less is more and shows Hamaguchi’s place as a fantastic visionary which hopefully lead to more astounding character pieces being made in the future.
Playing Kafuku is Hidetoshi Nishijima who has been perfectly cast in the lead role. Kafuku is a veteran actor who lives with his wife. We see people come and go in Kafuku’s life which is expected in his occupation as an actor and following the death of his wife, he finds himself at a stand still emotionally as he cannot fathom why she cheated on him before her untimely death. Despite this, Kafuku is recruited to direct an upcoming production of Uncle Vanya and is assigned a driver, Misaki, to transport him to and from the rehearsal venue where they strike up a friendship over time. We see Kafuku remain emotionally disconnected from those around him but something about Misaki strikes his curiosity and he desires to learn more about her. Due to the character centric plot, a lot of the film’s brilliance comes from Nishijima’s performance which feels so natural and organic in the role. He makes this mammoth performance seem easy and effortless despite being in almost every scene of this three hour epic. That is by no means an easy feat and the exceptional clarity and nuance he brings makes the film even more rewarding to watch.
The supporting cast is filled with strong performances, especially those who play the actors in Uncle Vanya as playing an actor requires extra layers. However, the star of the supporting cast is Tōko Miura who plays Kafuku’s driver, Misaki Watari. Miura’s performance is quiet and subtle but she her impact on the film and on Kufuku’s character is clear. At first it seems as though Kufuku and Misaki have nothing in common but eventually the former begins to open up emotionally and the two form a bond with Misaki providing much wisdom which helps Kufuku to move on with his life. In terms of their background, Misaki does not have an arts background and there is misconstrued as beneath Kufuku and his lifestyle. Soon enough, Kufuku realises that Misaki has much more to offer him than any play could. Miura’s performance is quietly powerful and it’s a shame she isn’t in the film more but the scenes we are treated to between the characters are beautifully written and paced, displaying a masterclass in filmmaking and character studies.
Overall, Drive My Car may seem intimidating due to its three hour running time, but just as the title suggests, the audience is taken through a journey slowly in a way that we get to fully take in everything the film has to offer. Adapting Murakami is no easy feat and Hamaguchi does a beautiful job of bringing this short story to life and extending the storyline in a way that is even more rewarding and breathes life into the characters by lifting them off the page.
Drive My Car is playing at this year’s London Film Festival!