Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB
Original Title: Doraibu mai kâ
Japan, 2021. Bitters End, C&I Entertainment, Culture Entertainment, Drive My Car Production Committee. Screenplay by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Oe, based on a short story by Haruki Murakami. Cinematography by Hidetoshi Shinomiya. Produced by Tsuyoshi Gorô, Misaki Kawamura, Osamu Kubota, Sachio Matsushita, Yoshito Nakabe, Keiji Okumura, Jin Suzuki, Teruhisa Yamamoto. Music by Eiko Ishibashi. Production Design by Kensaki Jo. Costume Design by Haruki Koketsu. Film Editing by Azusa Yamazaki.
Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is a successful actor who is performing in a multilingual production of Waiting For Godot when his filmmaker wife (Reika Kirishima) brings Kôji Takatsuki (Masaki Okada), much younger television star, backstage to meet him, and Yûsuke immediately suspects a connection between the two of them that excludes him. He comes home from an aborted flight to find his wife making love to another man whose face he doesn’t see, then she disappears from his life altogether and he is plunged into melancholy, his long drives in his car that he uses to learn his lines that much more haunting thanks to her voice feeding him his cues on tape. He is asked to direct a production of Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima and he accepts it, learning to his dismay when he arrives that he doesn’t have the option of driving himself to and from the rehearsal hall; the organization has had problems with artists driving themselves in the past and he is contractually obligated to accept the services of a chauffeur, a taciturn and mysterious but not unfriendly young woman named Misaki (Tôko Miura) who utters no complaints about whatever destination or distance he requires. When Kôji shows up and auditions for the show, Yûsuke hires him and casts him in the title role, almost as if to indulge in his own jealousy mixed with grief by making the boy squirm. A three hour running time sounds like it’s too generous for a plot that doesn’t sound very complicated, but it’s the execution of this story that is remarkable, as director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi puts so much delicate sentimentality in every frame of this magnificent drama without ever letting it become mawkish or overdrawn. There’s a genuine human sympathy, that rare and beautiful thing that so many movies aim for but so few achieve, that pulls you into this character’s story and makes every moment feel magical. The process of putting the show together, the actors involved and their various stories are fascinating, and in turn affect his Yûsuke’s with Misaki and inform the process of grieving that he must process to make it to the other side. Then there is the setting itself, and a third-act trip through the sites of Hiroshima that remind one of the legacy of that place and what it means to the production of Vanya, which encompasses a cast of actors from other parts of Asia who all speak their own languages on stage. The various thematic layers, of art, life, sex, love and jealousy, combine beautifully to make a complex but incisive experience in this brilliant film.
Cannes Film Festival Award: Best Screenplay
Toronto International Film Festival: 2021