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Drive My Car Review

6 min read
Copyright Janus Films

What They Say:
After his wife’s unexpected death, Yusuke Kafuku, a renowned stage actor and director, receives an offer to direct a production of Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima. There, he begins to face the haunting mysteries his wife left behind.

The Review:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I usually talk to friends and acquaintances about movies. Occasionally – I’d say about one out of every five major releases – the issue of length comes up, and I get a variety of different comments about whether or not a movie is too long or too short. For many of my friends, they would have been more than happy to have watched a four-hour version of “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” whereas for my dad the slightly over two-hour running time felt like five hours to him. There’s lots of debate on whether the upcoming “The Batman” and the almost three-hour running time will test the patience of the (mostly) teenage audience that is going to be seeing it. I agree with another famous critic who said that “no good movie is too long, and no bad movie is too short.” Even so, I was at a loss for words with how to describe to my family that the latest film I saw – “Drive My Car” – was worth seeing based on the length alone.

Here is a slow, methodical meditation on life and love, told through the eyes of a man who has long kept his fears and sorrows buried deep inside for fear of upsetting a life that is already on the verge of disaster. His only outlet is that of a play he is producing, in which he bares his soul to an audience that will likely not pick up the personal undertones of what they are watching. Sure, I’ve likely described a movie that sounds interesting to you. Maybe I could even convince you that it’s excellent. But at three hours long…ouch! For many people that falls somewhere above “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and below “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” Most of my friends had to be convinced to go see THOSE movies in theaters due to their length and these were movies they wanted to see! How am I going to convince them that this mostly dialog-driven movie (that is subtitled to boot) is basically worth giving up a whole afternoon for?

The reality is I likely can’t. Some people don’t want to watch long movies and that is that. And yet…I find the fact that this is the film’s biggest obstacle unique because when you get down to it, the length is also the film’s biggest strength. For time is not an issue for movies. A movie can be as long as it wants to be, but if the audience feels like you’re wasting their time they’ll turn away and never look back. In this regard, “Drive My Car” has the utmost respect for its audience; it knows that time is the one thing we can never get back. Once it’s gone it’s gone, and that’s why it frustrates us so much to waste it. Understanding this, writer/director Ryusuke Hamaguchi opens the film with a little romance and intrigue and then moves right onto conflict and character development.

Five minutes into the film we are not watching a ‘movie’ with ‘characters,’ but are instead invisible passengers to real people with real things to say. Sometimes there is silence, as the Japanese have an excellent way of poignantly expressing emotions with looks and glances alone, but when it is time to say something important the words pour out. There is a period when trust must be earned before anyone can ‘be bothered’ by the problems of others, but once said trust is earned the secrets overflow One scene that all aspiring writers should study to understand how brilliant this film is involves the director of the play, the star of the play, and the driver hired to drive the men where they want. Without spoiling too much, the actor has wronged the director. Though this is true, the director has hired the actor to headline his play anyway because he feels oddly connected to this man who wronged him.

The two converse for a long time about stories and what a mutual acquaintance meant to both of them while the driver pretends not to listen. At one point the two men…confess. Confess to what? The brilliant part is they don’t say what. Confess they do though, and we in the audience can tell that without directly addressing what is bothering both of them, they have confirmed each other’s suspicions in a way where no one has to admit to any wrongdoing. The scene is a masterpiece of writing, directing, and acting. It’s the kind of work that is so brilliant it makes one question the wisdom of people making this movie a less than $200,000 film at the box office while the latest Spider-Man grosses $1.8 billion dollars.

Speaking of Spider-Man, for the long-running time ‘No Way Home’ has, the screenplay is about 182 pages long. This movie is just twenty minutes longer, yet the screenplay clocks in at almost 300 pages, giving you an idea of how deep the story of “Drive My Car” becomes. As mentioned before though, the movie respects the audience’s time and doesn’t waste any of it. By the end, one could argue that everything we witnessed was so excellent that we might have been able to keep going. Part of me wished it was longer. Though there are no lingering questions, by the end the people in the film had become so real that I wanted to know where they were going in life from this point on? What would their lives look like now that they’ve come to these personal revelations, and would things improve or get worse knowing what they know now?

In Summary:
“Drive My Car” is a great example that cinema is not only not dead, but it is thriving and can still tell the kinds of stories that make shows on Netflix seem small in comparison! One of the things I forgot to mention (among all this talk about length and dialog) is how soothing the film is to watch, as the beautiful Japanese landscapes and mellow score give off an almost relaxing feeling during the whole experience. It truly is a shame that the length is going to convince many to not even give it a chance. We get so few personal films in cinema that manages to give unique perspectives on life, death, and how we love each other despite our obvious flaws. We probably don’t get them very often because they don’t bring in the dollars that Spider-Man does. Well, if movies like “Spider-Man: No Way Home” are worth $1.8 billion dollars then movies like “Drive My Car” are priceless!

Grade: A

Streamed By: HBO Max (March 3, 2022)

This film has been nominated for four Academy Awards including: Best Picture, Best International Feature – Japan, Best Director – Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Best Original Screenplay – Ryusuke Hamaguchi