'Drive My Car', an exciting reflection on life from the back seat
For Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, the car is something sacred. the filmmaker describes it as a place where "intimate conversations that are only born in that closed and moving space" take place. And it is in that cubicle where you can discover "aspects of ourselves that we have never shown to anyone or thoughts that we could not put words to." The vehicle is transformed, for a few moments, into a tool to fight against solitary confinement. And so Drive My Car it is a fascinating journey.
'Parasites': the class struggle was always a twisted black comedy
At just 43 years old, Hamaguchi has become one of the most prominent auteur filmmakers of the last season. He won the Grand Jury Prize at the Berlinale 2021 for The wheel of fortune and fantasy and now, his next film, is on the radar of almost all critics and academics. Drive My Car opens this Friday in theaters after causing a furor in Cannes, in which it did not win the Palme d'Or but did win the award for Best Screenplay. Where he is expected to get a statuette is at the next Oscar gala, for which the nominations are still unknown. However, taking into account the precedent of parasites, it would not be the first time that Asian cinema has become the protagonist of the Hollywood gala.
This time it is not a story about the ferocious consequences of capitalist society, but one based on a story by Haruki Murakami included in the novel Men without women. The text, barely 40 pages long, has been turned into a three-hour slow-cooked film adaptation. So much so that the opening credits appear almost 40 minutes after the screening has begun, implying that what seemed like half of the film is actually the prologue.
The first act introduces Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and Oto (Reika Kirishima), a married couple with a special bond beyond the relationship. He is an actor and theater director with international fame, while she is in charge of preparing the scripts that launch him to success. The ideas of these stories arise in a very specific moment: while having sexual relations. It is at that moment, of maximum fullness, when Oto lets himself go and gives free rein to his imagination to create a story that will later be represented on stage.
Although it is difficult to talk about it without gutting the content, it can be said that a fateful unforeseen event turns the tables on the relationship. From then on, the register of the feature film changes, going from what seemed like a domestic tragedy to a road movies. Two years after that event, Kafuku goes to work at a theater festival in Hiroshima directing the ambitious production of Uncle Vanya, an Anton Chekhov classic. The drawback is that, by rule of the organizers, the playwright has to have a personal chauffeur who takes him daily from his residence to the art center. This is how he meets Misaki (Toko Miura) who, despite initial reluctance, ends up regularly taking the wheel of his red Saab.
The inability to verbalize
One of the main themes that Hamaguchi deals with is solitary confinement. The protagonist of the film organizes a varied cast of actors forced to understand each other in different languages: Japanese, Chinese, Korean and even sign language. The scenes where those language barriers are broken down are fascinating. They reflect that, despite the difficulties, people of different nationalities and ages can understand each other because there are other levels of human connection beyond the language itself. They can work organically and, why not, represent a function of Chekhov himself.
Other times that inability to verbalize has nothing to do with language. The fear of emotional exposure is another element in the film, dealt with in the many trips between Misaki and Kafuku. The relationship between the two slowly evolves as they travel through Hiroshima, sometimes exchanging banal anecdotes and other times sharing feelings born from the deepest part of themselves.
It is in these journeys that topics as interesting as monogamy and the feeling of ownership in a love relationship are addressed. The reason why it seems incompatible to want to share life with someone with having other sexual relationships. Or why the pain of loss is sometimes selfish, responding to the search for personal catharsis by someone who refuses to accept the past.
In fact, Kafuku is reluctant to reprise the role of Vanya's character in Chekhov's play. Not out of inability, but out of fear of discovering his innermost 'I'. The film in turn takes the play as a resource to confuse the viewer. The recited dialogues of the function are sometimes confused with those of the film's script, giving rise to a metafiction within the same narrative. It's the same thing that happens in the fifth season of the series bojack horseman, which uses this same technique to directly challenge the role played by its audience.
In Drive My Car there is also no catharsis for the viewer. There is no great conclusion that resolves all the conflicts raised, as we are used to seeing in other films with the classic structure of the hero's journey. Hamaguchi's proposal is, instead, a journey on four wheels bound for introspection. And the road is not exactly in a straight line.