“Catalog of a Private Life”: Eight Ordinary Stories with Extraordinary Insight
CHENNAI: A delightfully mysterious film about grief and pain expressed through long silences, “Drive My Car” comes from Japanese auteur Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s stable of some great works and some less so.
Her quirky romance “Asako I & II” at Cannes three years ago wasn’t well received, but her co-written period thriller (with Kiyoshi Kurosawa) “Wife of a Spy” won a trophy at the Venice Film Festival in 2020. And the following year in Berlin, his “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” won the Silver Bear.
His latest, “Drive My Car” – in competition for Oscars in directing, best picture and best international feature film – is certainly for the festival and art house circuit.
It’s about the language of theatre, about love and loss told in a very weighty way but so gripping that it managed to hold our attention despite its 179 minutes.
A deep blend of theater and film, Hamaguchi’s work is scripted with Takamasa Oe and based on legendary Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s short story of the same name.
While faithful to the source material, Hamaguchi takes several turns adding new locations, supporting characters, and their harrowing stories.
The film, which is streaming on HBO Max, follows grieving director and actor Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) as he directs a multilingual production of Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” in Hiroshima with a cast of Korean, Japanese and Japanese actors. and Chinese. Lengthy casting sequences can feel repetitive, but on closer inspection, each has its tiny differences.
The insurance company overseeing the staging asks Kafuku to hire a driver for his blood-red Saab car, and grumpy, chain-smoking Misaki (Toko Miura) is put in charge of it. Dramatically, the car becomes an extension of Kafuku’s life and work, and its enclosed space becomes seductively impactful.
It’s captivating to see how Hamaguchi transforms the vehicle into a platform where Kafuku and Misaki reveal their innermost desires and sufferings. She has her own unfortunate family history. Cinematographer Hidetoshi Shinomiya’s lens captures the grief and pain of the two, and the vehicle appears like a glowing insect against the gray, arid landscapes it traverses.
An emotionally painful epic that ends with the promise of better times, however, banishing grief and gloom with a brief stab at its peak.