Have you ever watched a glass of spilled milk spread slowly, inching its way off the table to its final destination of the floor? It is both slow and mesmerizing. You cannot take your eyes off of it and while it might make a mess you don’t really want to stop it. What does spilled milk have to do with a Japanese film, you ask? Read on.
The spilled milk is an almost perfect description of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s (Happy Hour, Asako I & II) Drive My Car. A film which is long (just under 3 hours long), winding and yet will capture your attention. A film which many will relate to on some level. That is why a long, artsy and foreign film has earned itself four Oscar nominations – Best Film, Best Achievement in Directing, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film. This is one of those films which will convince you that will convince you that film should be considered a high art form. Something which is so far away from the medium which churns out car chases, superheroes in tights and formulaic rom-com after rom-com.
Drive My Car has been talked about a lot since its debut at last year’s Cannes film festival. It gained momentum in a slow kind of way that replicates its pace. Now finds itself at the top of many a film critics’ Top 10 films of the year list. Don’t sleep on this one!
Yusuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima – The Wind Rises, Voices in the Wind) is a famous stage actor and director. Tragedy struck him two years previous in that his young wife (Reika Kirishima – Godzilla: Final Wars) died unexpectedly. His life is left in a bit of a shamble. Now, he has been asked to direct a production of Uncle Vanya at a theatre festival in Hiroshima. Due to the rules of the festival, Yusuke will not be allowed to drive himself in his beloved red Saab 900. A driver has been hired for him. The driver is a quiet, calm young woman named Misaki (Toko Miura – The Girl in the Sun).
The putting on of the production is not without problems. Tension is rising amongst Yusuke’s cast and crew during the two months of rehearsals. Most damaging between director Yusuke and his lead actor, Koji (Misaki Okada), a young handsome television actor, who Yusuke knows has had an affair with his wife.
On the long drives back to his rented house, Yusuke engages in discussions with Misaki. Two damaged people figuring things out. A trust grows between the two as they reveal the traumas they have both endured.
Based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, this is a different kind of road movie. One about accepting, finding peace, love, and dealing with loss. Nothing is obvious, however. There is a pall of mystery which is pervasive.
Every element in the film works together to tell the story. Nothing is forced. Everything feels very organic. The music fills the gaps in the story which are not told by words. It is all very poetic. The visuals, while not over the top, are beautiful. A whole world is created. The watcher is transported.