To say that Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car” has been critically acclaimed would almost be an understatement.
So far, the film has won three awards at Cannes, one Golden Globe as well as been deemed the best film of 2021 by the National Society of Film Critics, the LA Film Critics Association and the New York Critics circle. It has also been featured in the upper end of virtually countless “Best of 2021” lists from critics and laymen alike.
The film is among the fifteen foreign language films that will be narrowed down to the final ten for the Oscars’ International Feature Film, and it is also one of the 276 films eligible for Best Picture.
Being one of the higher-profile films on the list, “Drive My Car” could potentially follow up 2019’s “Parasite” and be the second foreign film to ever win Best Picture.
Likely thanks to all of this hype, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston will be screening the film once again on Feb. 3, 10 and 13. People interested in seeing it must plan to buy tickets promptly, as the screenings from earlier this January sold out.
But what is “Drive My Car” all about?
The film follows an acclaimed stage actor and director Yūsuke Kafuku, played by Hidetoshi Nishijima, who catches his screenwriter wife cheating on him, but remains quiet about this discovery.
Picking up some off-kilter vibes regardless, his wife Oto, played by Reika Kirishima, asks him one morning if they could talk when he gets back from work.
Kafuku drives around aimlessly after rehearsal, killing time to avoid facing the situation, and when he finally returns home late he finds Oto on the floor, dead from a brain hemorrhage.
While this is a harshly condensed description of the events, all of this takes place within the first twenty or so minutes.
This short beginning also establishes the character’s relationship before and after the discovered infidelity, as well as showcase part of Kafuku’s famously unique working method, which includes practicing his lines as he makes his hour-long commute to work.
The rest of the film’s three-hour runtime follows Kafuku as he tries to mount a multilingual production of “Uncle Vanya” after two years of not working in the wake of his wife’s death.
Kafuku is assigned driver Misaki Watarai, played by Toko Miura, against his will by the theater company, and the film uses their forced (at first) interactions to shrewdly explore the road to reconnection and acceptance after personal loss and tragedy.
Despite being almost three hours long, the excellent pacing will leave you surprised at how fast the movie has gone by when the credits roll.
The breathtaking landscapes and comely compositions by cinematographer Hidetoshi Shinomiya are sure to keep you engaged even if the story fails to do so, which is difficult to imagine.
An intrigue that develops, for example, is that Kafuku casts the actor whom Oto cheated on him with, Masaki Okada, as Uncle Vanya. This role was played by Kafuku himself in his previous productions, despite the fact he was recently involved in some unknown scandal that is later revealed.
The scenes with the two of them are charged with tension and mystery, as we don’t know if Kafuku cast him in order to exact revenge (a la the film “Whiplash”) or because he genuinely thought his audition revealed an underlying potential to personify the protagonist.
“Drive My Car” is a truly entrancing and therapeutic experience that should be experienced in theaters, and those hesitant because of COVID-19 will be glad to know that the MFAH still observes limited capacities and enforces mask-wearing throughout the screenings of the film.