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November 15, 2021

Denver Film Festival - Drive My Car


Doraibu mai ka
Ryusuke Hamaguchi - 2021
Janus Films

"I've heard it said that the happiest time in our lives is the period when pop songs really mean something to us, really get to us. It may be true. Or maybe not. Pop songs may, after all, be nothing but pop songs. And perhaps our lives are merely decorative, expendable items, a burst of fleeting color and nothing more.
Haruki Murakami from the essay, With the Beatles

The Japanese author Haruki Murakami writes about memories and dreams. And I remember the four novels I have read better than I can recall the two previous films I have seen by Hamaguchi. Murakami has a couple of short stories, an essay and a novel that use titles from Beatle songs and one album. The song titles are the initial tangent from which may spark memories but are not the subject matter. In "With the Beatles", Murakami begins by recalling the memory of a girl he only saw once in high school, who was clutching that album back in 1964. From there, he tells of his relationship with his first girlfriend, and learning by chance about twenty years later that she had committed suicide. Going back to the above quote, Drive My Car is in part about lives with unexpected endings, secrets people carry with them, and loss of control of ones life. And the lives of spouses, parents and children may appear as bursts of fleeting color that haunt Murakami's characters.

Yasuke is a stage actor and director. His wife, Oto, writes for television. Even when accidentally observing his wife with another man, Yasuke discretely exits. The evening that Yasuke comes home late, Oto is passed out on the floor, dying of a cerebral hemorrhage. Two years later, Yasuke goes to Hiroshima to stage a pan-Asian production of Uncle Vanya. The lines from Chekov's play, in which Vanya bemoans that his life has not turned out as expected acts as a commentary on Yasuke's sense of self. The organization hosting the production of Uncle Vanya has a contractual rule that the guest directors can not drive themselves due to a past accident. Yasuke reluctantly surrenders the keys to his beloved red Saab 900 to his assigned driver, Misaki.

I have yet to find Murakami explain why he likes to use Beatle song titles. It might simply be part of the playfulness of the author. For Yusuke, driving represents the one aspect of his life he has control over, but even that is tentative, as he has been diagnoses with glaucoma, limiting his vision. What Hamaguchi has done is also incorporate two other short stories by Murakami that ask multiple questions about the stories we tell ourselves or share with others. On the surface it may seem extreme that Hamaguchi has made a three hour film from a short story, but what he has done is taken some of the ideas by reworking Murakami to be part of the dialogue between characters and also further explore more detail in their lives. Because of the artistic choices made by both the source author and the filmmaker, there is a lot to unpack to go beyond any surface description.

As noted, part of the story is devoted to Yuskuke's pan-Asian production of Uncle Vanya. The actors speak their lines in their native languages which include Japanese, Mandarin and Tagalog. One of the actresses is mute, using sign language. While some may argue about Korean actress Park Yoo-rim portraying a person with a disability, she is undeniably affecting in her performance both as the former ballerina Yoon-a and as Yoon-a playing the part of Chekov's Sonya.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 15, 2021 07:04 AM