Saturday, December 11, 2021

Drive My Car / ドライブ・マイ・カー - Movie Review

The Movie: Drive My Car / ドライブ・マイ・カー

The Director: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi

The Cast: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Tôko Miura, Reika Kirishima, Masaki Okada, Reika Kirishima

The Story: Nishijima Hidetoshi is a stage actor and director happily married to his playwright wife. Then one day she disappears.

The Review:
Yes, this movie is three hours long but don't let that scare you from watching it, when the credits roll, you won't realize that much time has passed by. I mean, it's two minutes less time than Avengers: Endgame and you don't even have to sit through the credits! If you're not familiar with the director, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, then you have some catching up to do. He's been making movies since 2003 although the last few years have seen him emerge as a filmmaker to keep your eye on and one of my current favorites.

A few years back, I took the plunge and dove into his five hour and seventeen minute Happy Hour (full disclosure, I watched it over two sittings) and I was more than happy having invested the time. Hamaguchi has a very unique story telling style as he takes deep dives into human emotions and how the brain works when it comes relationships of all types. Next up for me was Asako I & II which is a very satisfying movie because its character's flaws are so relatable, it's hard not to feel for them even as they are making bad decisions. The final Hamaguchi before getting to this one is Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy which actually came out earlier this year and might just be my favorite of the bunch.

I'll let you check out those reviews for more info on each film rather than taking up any more space here. My point is, Hamaguchi has become a very prolific director who seems to get better and better with each movie he makes and Drive My Car is finally getting him the recognition and notoriety that has been missing from movie media up until now. What I love about the director's story telling style is that he is never in a hurry, never cares about quick edits, and takes as long as he wants to say what he wants because, as a famous Ent named Treebeard once said, anything worth saying is worth taking a long time to say, or something to that effect.

Prime example of this is how the first 40 minutes of the movie is basically a setup to the overall narrative that then leads into the opening credits sequence. You know, the type of setup that normally takes maybe five minutes? Hamaguchi basically tells a complete story, one that is as emotionally affecting as most full movies, just to set up his actual story. I don't want to go into the story much because there are so many layers that are unraveled that it would take an essay way more complex than I would want to write in a review. The magic of Hamaguchi's filmmaking is how rewarding his stories are which makes investing in them such a worthwhile experience.

This isn't fast food, quick fix cinema that exits your brain as quickly as it enters, the story is complex, layered, nuanced, and draws you in without you ever realizing how wrapped you are in what's happening. The relationships are complex and imperfect which makes them more relatable in some very intimate ways, probably ways we haven't actually explored within ourselves so our reactions can be quite unexpected. In this way the director's films are more in touch with who we are as humans right now than just about any other filmmaker out there and that's why his stories stick with me and make me think about them long after I am done watching them.

Hidetoshi Nishijima plays the lead character Yûsuke Kafuku, a man who experiences a sudden shift in his life and must come to terms with a lot of different things. He plays the role with a steady, even keeled exterior, the kind that we all like to put forward to let people know that we are experiencing an emotional dumpster fire inside our heads just about every single day. Over the course of the movie, Yûsuke's life changes in some very significant ways and his perspective on life is also altered thanks to his reluctant relationship with his driver Misaki Watari, a young woman played in an equally proficient manner by Tôko Miura. The pair work brilliantly together in an effectively quiet and understated manner which kind of embodies the movie as a whole. 

The Verdict:
Drive My Car goes down a road less traveled with an engaging story that emphasizes conversations and contemplations and features impressive performances from Hidetoshi Nishijima and Tôko Miura. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi adds to an already outstanding roster of movies and has quickly found a place among my favorite directors.

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