Drive My Car: Japan’s first film up for a Best Picture Oscar is exquisite - Hindustan Times

Drive My Car: Japan’s first film up for a Best Picture Oscar is exquisite

Mar 26, 2022 05:19 PM IST

The movie explores the bond between a widower and the woman hired to drive him around Hiroshima. 'It's a quietly devastating meditation on grief. Make time for it,' says Anupama Chopra.

Can I persuade you to watch a three-hour Japanese film about the hesitant, fragile relationship between a theatre director-and-actor, still grieving and desperately trying to decode the actions of his dead wife, and a young woman who is hired to drive him around Hiroshima, where he is directing an experimental, multi-lingual production of Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov?

Drive My Car, starring Hidetoshi Nishijima and Toko Miura, is based on a short story by Haruki Murakami. PREMIUM
Drive My Car, starring Hidetoshi Nishijima and Toko Miura, is based on a short story by Haruki Murakami.

It sounds like a tough sit but Drive My Car (2021), based on a short story by Haruki Murakami and directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, is a quietly devastating meditation on grief, the mysteries of the human heart, and the power of art.

The film, available on Mubi India from April 1, has such an unhurried pace that the opening credits appear 40 minutes in. Drive My Car opens on a couple talking in bed. The woman is narrating a story filled with intrigue and suspense, almost as though she were in a trance. The two seem warm, loving, perfectly matched. We learn that she is a TV writer, he an actor and director. She records his lines for him on cassettes, which he then listens to and internalises as he drives around.

But as the story unfolds, we discover that Yusuke and Oto kept secrets from each other. Two years after her death, Yusuke is still listening to the tapes she made and wondering what compelled her to do the things she did, things that include a number of infidelities.

Hamaguchi tells the story with delicacy and precision. The drama, like the visuals, is restrained; the emotions seep in slowly, until they eventually overcome you. Hidetoshi Nishijima is superbly withheld as Yusuke. His tightly controlled expressions reveal his inner turmoil. He is haunted by Oto but also filled with regret.

Toko Miura is also superb, as Misaki, a woman struggling with her own tightly coiled demons. The visual of the vintage red Saab, driven by the taciturn Misaki, becomes an aching symbol. The car is a place for confession and connection. By the end, it also suggests a semblance of peace and letting go.

Japan has been setting cinematic benchmarks for decades. Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon won an honorary Oscar award for best foreign-language film in 1952. Now, Drive My Car is the country’s first film to be nominated for Best Picture. Its other three nominations are for Best Director, Best International Feature Film and Best Adapted Screenplay.

All of which should encourage you to seek it out. If the duration is a deal-breaker, I suggest multiple sittings. Purists will be aghast, but the sweep and heartbreak of this film are strong enough to withstand truncated viewing.

Toward the end of the film, Yusuke says to Misaki, “We must keep on living. We’ll be okay.” Drive My Car makes that simple assertion with profound power. Make time for it.

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