Unrated, but there's a lot of sex. Like, a lot of sex. For about half-an-hour, I wondered if this was going to be a three-hour movie about sex and nudity. It's not. It then becomes about sadness and misery. There's some mild violence stuff, but that is mostly off camera. There's drunkeness and smoking. They also talk about some horrible things with the flattest affect imaginable. Still, it's unrated.
DIRECTOR: Ryusuke Hamaguchi
No, it's true. Absolutely true. I don't think I've almost quit on a Best Picture nomination like I did with Drive My Car. I mean, I'm really glad that I didn't. But the movie starts off with a topless woman narrating an idea she has during sex. Then a good percentage of the movie is them discussing this implicitly sexual story that she's writing. I didn't know if I could handle three hours of that. It makes me sound like a prude, but it was more along the lines of the fact that I wasn't really getting anything out of it. But then the actual movie started and that's when I got something so out of it that I would cautiously recommend it to people.
I have a degree in theatre. I am married and I'm obsessed with humanities. I mean, I talk about books and characters and movies all day because it's something that really interests me. If you didn't guess that, then this blog has no purpose. There's something really inside baseball about Drive My Car. Mr. Kafuku is the alternate reality version of me. Like, if I took myself a lot more seriously, then that would be me. Like, if I didn't take my anxiety meds and just allowed myself to wallow, it would probably look a like Mr. Kafuku. I was going to talk about how the only difference in my life is that he didn't have any kids, but then I remembered the odd tragic backstory of Kafuku and Oto. They had a kid. She died when they were very young. Sure, that would probably be me if I had no one to keep me on track from being really depressed. There's never really talk about suicide or anything like that. Sure, there's blame and all that, but there's just this void where Kafuku powers through life because he has to. He falls back on his comfort zone, which is drama. Yeah, I take it back. If I lost everything, I would be Kafuku.
But considering that the lynchpin of the film is how people treat relationships, I don't know if I can necessarily relate. Kafuku walks in on Oto with Takatsuki and he just allows it to happen. I don't know if I would ever be that broken. I'm such a scorched earth kind of guy that this scene doesn't play for me. But the thing is, there's something very otherworldly about Kafuku to begin with. He doesn't necessarily view the world in the same way that we do. He's very okay with being an observer in his own narrative, which is ironic considering that he's a director of plays. His very nature is to make major artistic decisions from minute to minute. He is presenting the world of Uncle Vanya through his soul. So for him to be so passive about all these interactions is odd. The reason that we find his relationship with Misaki so symbiotic is because they both treat the world from this outside perspective. I'm really playing film critic here with this next observation, so please be patient with me. Perhaps their careers reflect their world views. While Kafuku is a director and he has to make a lot of choices, he isn't the face of those choices. He views the play like an audience member, detached from the final production. It's why he finds the portrayal of the eponymous character so taxing. He doesn't want to be part of that world anymore. It forces him to emote. The same is true for Misaki. Everything Misaki takes in comes from the frame of a windshield. While she is the one driving, she is following instructions. She doesn't interact with those things. It's almost like she is watching a film of the countryside flying by her.
Misaki has always been that way though. She confesses to allowing her mother to die in the landslide. It is where the movie takes a weirder turn than normal.; The funny thing is that a major criticism I would normally have is that the movie entirely tells instead of shows. The intentionally flat delivery of these heart-wrenching stories make these moments entirely logical reactions instead of emotional ones. While we judge Misaki for allowing her mother to die, we also have to come into a moral and logical quandary on the role of mental health when it come to child rearing. Because her mother may have had a real mental break, it's odd to think that Misaki may have killed two people in her catatonic state. I would like to point out that, even if Misaki's mother was a noble character, it would be completely understandable if young Misaki just froze in horror at the destruction of the house. But Drive My Car really sells the notion that there was something willful in Misaki's choice not to save her mother. Even Kafuku comments that other people would say that it was not her fault, but he acknowledges the very real decision to leave her to die. So there's that moment that shows how broken of a person Misaki is. I have nowhere else to go with this, but I get how these broken individuals found each other.
There is one scene that puzzles me and I love that it does. Tatatsuki plays a lot of mind games. If there was a villain in the story, it's him. His life is falling apart because of horrible choices associated with youth. He slept with another man's wife and he beat someone to death. Those are some compelling reasons to make him the villain. But if you watch the film, it isn't necessarily that cut and dry. I still stand by the notion that he's the antagonist of the story, but you should be able to understand why that analysis might be considered overly simplistic. Anyway, the scene I'm talking about is the confession that Tatatsuki knows the end of the story that Oto was writing. How does he know? He was sleeping with her, so the two address the elephant in the room. They both know that Tatatsuki was sleeping with Oto. But I'm not sure if this is a moment of bonding with Kafuku or torturing him. Part of me thinks it is both. Tatatsuki is spiraling ever since the two year time-jump. He went from being the It-Guy to committing career harakiri. It's like he wants love from someone and he is going to get it from the one person who is off-limits: Kafuku.
But there is a dark healing that happens there. The best way that I could describe it is breaking a bone all the way through so it heals right. Kafuku never healed properly from his wife's death because there's always this element of resentment towards her. And while Tatatsuki's confession and trap hurts like all get out, he seems somehow clean after that. The movie never really needs to paint it that way. It understands that a lot is up for interpretation. But that's my read on the scene.
I'm never quite sure about Kafuku's intentions though. He casts Tatatsuki as the lead in his very eclectic version of Uncle Vanya...why? The surface level, which makes sense in-universe, is that everyone is cast against type. Everyone speaking a different language is this automatic barrier between real communication, a metaphor for what is is going on between the characters in reality. But there has to be a deeper read on Kafuku's casting choices. Part of me thinks that he wants Tatatsuki to flounder in a part that he can't really play. That read mostly scans. But even more so, I also think that he's torturing himself by surrounding himself with the man who seduced his wife. The movie is almost a form of cutting just to feel something. Maybe that's why the road trip towards the end of the film is so cathartic. After not allowing himself to feel anything, he submits to his own vulnerability, allowing him to finally play Vanya, despite the pain that it causes him.
It's a tough movie. Murikami, who wrote the original book, is a difficult author to unpack. Drive My Car thrives when it stops being so quirky and allows itself to get really vulnerable. It's not a perfect movie, but it is an interesting one.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.