‘Drive My Car’: A tasteful and rebellious instrument for grief

"Drive My Car" (Photo courtesy of Criterion Collection/C&I Entertainment)

By Mild Laohapoonrungsee
Boston University News Service

An adaptation of bestselling Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s “Men Without Women,” “Drive My Car” is a meditative, soft-spoken theatrical film filled with subtle metaphors and hidden parallels surrounding grief, empathy and self-reflection.

Directed by Oscar-nominated Ryusuke Hamaguchi, the film features a quiet exploration of missing pieces in life that the protagonist is searching for after losing his wife and muse to a brain hemorrhage. Contrary to the conventionally dramatic take on love and loss, “Drive My Car” is a delicate and realistic piece of contemplative art that would touch hearts for its relatability.

Widowed actor and stage director Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) accepts a residency away from home to direct a play two years after the death of his wife, Oto (Reika Kirishima). Kafuku meets young female driver Misaki Watari (Toko Miura) when she chauffeurs his personal car. During the drives, Kafuku reminisces about his late wife while Watari recalls memories about her abusive mother’s death, and they slowly bond over the long rides between his hotel and rehearsal site. 

Oto has always been a mystery to Kafuku. But after having conversations with Watari and another supporting character, Koji Takatsuki (Masaki Okada), a younger actor who was sexually involved with Oto and admits to being in love with her, Kafuku realizes that he is no less of a mystery himself. Taking Kafuku to visit her hometown, where her mother died in a mudslide, Watari and Kafuku open up about their hidden truths to each other. Watari reveals the guilt she has carried from not being able to save her mother. Standing on top of the peaceful hill covered in snow, Kafuku and Watari found solace in each other’s simple yet powerful embrace.

The simplistic cinematography allows for enigmatic substories to unfold and reveal an anchoring principle of being human: we all suffer from loss. Grief and acceptance are essential to our healing and perseverance. The film’s number of deadly quiet and silent scenes encourage internal reflection for the audience. These reflective moments are further enhanced by the mute character Lee Yoon-a (Park Yu-rim) who uses sign language. 

Despite its heavy themes of illness, love affairs and loss, “Drive My Car” is a reserved movie throughout. It is an example of what happens when one represses their feelings. The movie holds the audience’s attention with hidden and obscured details. After every plot twist and reveal, the tones expressed through acting and the overall atmosphere remain gentle. A spectacular blend of subtlety and sensibility, three hours of cinema getaway has never felt so short.

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