There is something about the moving space of a dark vehicle and how it can transform into a confessional booth of sorts, where its occupants can speak truths they may not say anywhere else.
Hidetoshi Nishijima stars as Yusuke and Toko Miura as Misaki in Drive My Car, a story about love, loss, acceptance and piece. Photo credit: Films We Like.
The moving car is where characters’ stories unravel, and their truths unveil in director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Oscar-nominated film, Drive My Car.
“These depictions jogged my own memories of intimate conversations that are only born within that closed-off, moving space. Because it’s a moving space, it’s actually nowhere, and there are times when that place helps us discover aspects of ourselves that we’ve never shown anyone, or thoughts that we couldn’t put into words before,” says Hamaguchi.
The film follows the story of Yusuke Kafuku, a renowned stage actor and director, set to direct a theatre production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at a Hiroshima festival. Yusuke sets off to Hiroshima in his beloved red Saab 900 with recordings of the play read by his late wife, Oto. By choosing lodging far from the theatre, he plans to listen to the tapes alone as he travels to and from the theatre each day.
These plans are derailed when he finds out the theatre will not let him drive his car due to a liability issue. Instead, the festival has assigned him a chauffeur, Misaki, a young, quiet woman with a dark past clouding her.
As the premiere date approaches, tensions grow between Yusuke and his cast and crew, including young actor Koji Takatsuki. Playing the lead role of Vanya, Koji has an uncomfortable connection to Yusuke’s late wife. As these tensions grow, so does Yusuke’s friendship with Misaki. The Saab increasingly functions as a confession booth for the two, and Yusuke begins to confront uncomfortable truths and mysteries left behind by his wife.
With his wife Oto, a beautiful playwright, he shared a peaceful and creatively enthralling life, despite both of their painful pasts. When Oto died suddenly two years earlier, Yusuke was left with regret over his inability to truly understand his wife and his unwillingness to try when she was alive.
Directed by Hamaguchi and co-written with Takamasa Oe, Drive My Car is based on a short story by Haruki Murakami in the collection Men Without Women.
The short story resonated with Hamaguchi. While working on the documentaries Voices from the Waves and The Sound of the Waves about the earthquake and nuclear disaster in 2011, he would spend a lot of time in the car and would sit in the front seat and talk to the driver, so they wouldn’t fall asleep.
“I realized, though, that we were often talking about things we wouldn’t otherwise have felt comfortable talking about. I felt that the shared landscapes and environment around us were helping move the conversations along, in addition to the car creating a warm, safe, intimate space,” says Hamaguchi.
As the story unfolds and Yusuke and Misaki reveal their truths, the movement of the car draws viewers in, like a hypnosis, different from if characters were in a stagnant location, like a cafe or a park bench.
“No shot in a car is truly static; the landscape moving behind you becomes an integral part of the image. It’s hypnotizing, in a way, and I think it helps the audience keep listening to what people are talking about. That also just happens in real life to people, the car space allows for talking to continue,” says Hamaguchi.
Drive My Car picked up four Oscar nominations on Monday morning, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and International Feature. The nominations are no surprise considering the praise the film has received since premiering at Cannes Film Festival last year, winning the best screenplay prize.
Drive My Car is playing in theatres across Canada starting on Feb. 11. For theatre locations and screenings, visit www.filmswelike.com/films/drive-my-car.