Cast: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Masaki Okada, Reika Kirishima, Toko Miura
Best Screenplay, 2021 Cannes Film Festival
Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s DRIVE MY CAR begins with two sex scenes that will remain unshakeable, for its participants and its audience. In the first, Yusuke listens while his wife Oto brainstorms a screenplay while in the throes of ecstasy, a stream of consciousness dictation we soon learn is a ritual between TV writer and theater director, wife and husband. In the second sex scene, Yusuke walks in on Oto in the naked arms of another man, an intruder in the couple’s romantic, physical, and creative life.
Years after Oto is gone, her voice is the metronome to his most regimented existence. Every time he steps behind the wheel of his Saab 900, he pops in a cassette tape of her feeding him lines, to which he will recite dutifully, hypnotically, for hours on end. However, a new commission in Hiroshima sends an intrusion into his safe vehicular space. The producers of a theater festival require that he accept their chauffeur to drive him around in his own car, just one of several psychic disturbances that will befall him in the coming days, and lead Yusuke back to his wife, her lover, and his own grief.
Adapting a short story by Haruki Murakami, director Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, SDAFF ‘21) finds in the spaces between the real and the illusory, consciousness and memory, a psychological violence that pierces, stunts, and haunts. As he did so memorably in Happy Hour (SDAFF ’15), Hamaguchi uses film length to his advantage: long scenes with extended dialogue exchanges that run the knife deeper, that churn mystery into the mundane until we wonder if it’s still there. Murakami and Hamaguchi prove perfectly aligned on this: the stranger the tale, the more we want to believe in its every mesmerizing, allegorical detail.