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Film / Drive My Car

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"But even if you think you know someone well, even if you love that person deeply, you can't completely look into that person's heart. You'll just feel hurt. But if you put in enough effort, you should be able to look into your own heart pretty well. So in the end, what we should be doing is to be true to our hearts and come to terms with it in a capable way. If you really want to look at someone, then your only option is to look at yourself squarely and deeply."
Kôshi Takatsuki

Drive My Car (ドライブ・マイ・カー) is a Japanese drama directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, and written by Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe, based on the short story of the same name by Haruki Murakami.note  It stars Hidetoshi Nishijima as Yusuke Kafuku, a popular theatre actor and director married to Oto (Reika Kirishima), a screenwriter. Their marriage, strained by the loss of a child and rumors of infidelity, comes to a shocking and unexpected end.

Two years later, Kafuku is invited to direct an ambitious multilingual stage adaptation of Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima. Upon his arrival, and much to his chagrin, Kafuku is assigned as his chauffeur Misaki Watari (Tôko Miura), a stoic woman who is nonetheless a skilled driver. Beginning with his habit of rehearsing during the long commute from his residence to the rehearsal space, Kafuku and Watari's relationship begins to deepen and develop as secrets and confessions begin to be shared between them.

The movie premiered at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, where it won three prizes including Best Screenplay. It was chosen as Japan's submission for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film—which it won—and was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture, becoming the first Japanese film to be nominated for the latter. The movie was given a limited release in the United States beginning on November 24, 2021. The trailer can be seen here.

Drive My Car provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Takatsuki beats a man to death simply because the man took pictures of him in public. The news report of his arrest also reveals he had previously had an illegal relationship with a minor. But he did feel a genuine connection to Oto's writing and later opens his heart to Kafuku about his feelings of emptiness, seeing the same qualities in Kafuku that he loved in Oto.
  • Anti-Nepotism: Kafuku's assistant in the production reveals after the auditions are over and all the roles have been filled that Lee Yoo-na, the mute woman playing Sonya, is in fact his wife. She wanted to be able to audition for a role without any concerns that Kafuku would feel pressured to cast her due to her marriage to the assistant.
  • Berserk Button: Takatsuki hates having his photo taken by strangers in public. He ends up beating a man to death over it.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: Often more than bilingual even. Kafuku's speciality is multi-lingual theater productions where all the actors will speak in their native languages with translations being projected on the back wall of the stage. Most of the story takes place during a production of Uncle Vanya that he is directing that is Japanese, Mandarin, Tagalog, and Korean (including one actress who speaks with Korean Sign Language). Much of the story is spent on the actors both learning their lines but learning the timings of the other actors' lines whom they do not actually understand natively.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Kafuku and Watari cannot turn back the clock to save their dead loved ones, but they do resolve to live the best lives they can. Kafuku finds the will to play Vanya again, but it's a role that clearly still takes an emotional toll on him. And after an indeterminate time skip, we see that Watari has bought the same red car that she drove Kafuku around in, gotten a treatment to reduce the scar on her cheek, got a dog that is the same breed as the one that Yoon-soo and Yoon-ah owned, and has left Hiroshima to start a new life in South Korea.
  • Bookends: The prologue of the story ends with Kafuku breaking down during a performance of Uncle Vanya after his wife's death. The story ends with him doing the role again and nearly breaking down offstage again after a particularly emotional scene, but pulling himself together to finish the play.
  • Comforting Comforter: Kafuku tucks in his wife, showing how much he cares about her.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Watari had a rough childhood. Her father was completely out of the picture, she presently has no idea of he's even alive or dead. Her mother was both physically and emotionally abusive towards her. She made Watari learn to drive in Junior High so that she could drive her to the train station at night and pick her up in the morning so the mom could work at a nightclub. Watari's present skills at driving came from the fact that her mother would sleep on the hour long ride to and from the station, and if anything woke her, she would beat Watari, so Watari learned to drive as well as possible to avoid punishment. Eventually, Watari's mother apparently developed a split personality that was practically a child and much kinder than she normally was. At present, Watari isn't sure whether her mother genuinely had a mental illness or whether she was just faking it to have a more positive relationship with her, but either way the alternate personality's existence just adds to Watari's guilt over her mother's death, since even if she hated her mom, she came to love the alternate personality.
  • Death of a Child: In the backstory, Kafuku and Oto's daughter died of pneumonia at the age of four. Their marriage nearly ended but eventually recovered—however, Oto began constantly cheating on her husband, even while sincerely loving him.
  • Dull Surprise: Kafuku's reaction to everything from finding his wife sleeping with another man to finding her passed out in their home and calling the ambulance is all rather lowkey and muted. He doesn't show that much emotion throughout the movie in general until the end when he acknowledges that this behavior started with learning about his wife's infidelity as a coping mechanism to avoid facing the pain he feels. He finally lets all of his emotions about his anger and love for his wife out at the end of the movie, allowing him to move on.
  • Failure-to-Save Murder: Both Kafuku and Watari feel guilt about their wife and mother (respectively)'s deaths and their roles in it. Kafuku feels guilty because he aimlessly drove around until late to avoid having a conversation Oto wanted to have with him which he suspected was about her affairs, so he wonders if he had just come home and faced her, would he have been able to have called an ambulance in time to save her when her brain hemorrhage occurred. Watari feels guilty because she was at home with her mother when the landslide crushed their house. The house was initially only partially destroyed and Watari was able to crawl out of the wreckage to safety. But instead of attempting to save her mother (who was physically and emotionally abusive) or go for help, she simply just stared at the remains of her house until it fully collapsed, killing her mother inside.
  • Home-Early Surprise: Kafuku was set to fly out to a theater festival to serve as a judge, but his flight gets pushed forward 24 hours. He comes home to find his wife having sex with another man. He silently backs out without alerting them. Later in the film, it's revealed this was NOT the first time he knew she was cheating on him, it had been going on for a little while, but he didn't have the guts to confront her about it due to the fear of losing her.
  • It Always Rains at Funerals: It's pouring rain at Oto's funeral. A despondent Kafuku notices that his wife's lover Takatsuki also came.
  • Language of Love: Takatsuki and Janice Chang end up hooking up together while rehearsing for the performance, despite sharing no common languages as he only speaks Japanese while she speaks Mandarin and English. While being driven to a daily practice session, Kafuku sees when his car passes by that they were in a fender bender with another driver (meaning they spent the night together and are now violating the rule that the actors are not to drive themselves) and is unsurprised when both show up late together. He's not happy with them.
  • Memento Macguffin: Kafuku keeps the tape his wife made for him to practice Uncle Vanya in his car's radio and plays it whenever he drives anywhere. It serves as a sort of memento, but as Kafuku continues to speak his lines during the silent parts of the tape even two years later, it means he knows Vanya's role by heart. This becomes relevant after Takatsuki gets arrested for beating a man to death and thus obviously cannot play Vanya anymore.
  • Narrative Filigree: Early in the film Kafuku gets in a car wreck. He is diagnosed with glaucoma and the doctor prescribes the standard eye drops, stressing that he must take them forever to avoid further vision loss. This plays no factor in the rest of the story and isn't even the reason why Kafuku needs a driver; he only gets Watari as a driver because his employers insist.note 
  • Prolonged Prologue: The opening credits don't occur until about 45 minutes into the 3-hour movie.
  • Race Lift: Enforced In-Universe. Kafuku's specialty is in multilingual theater, where actors enact roles in their native languages, to test the boundaries of emotive acting and demonstrate the universality of theater. We see him do Waiting for Godot and Uncle Vanya (the latter is implicitly white, being set in late-19th century Russia) alongside East and Southeast Asian actors from different countries.
  • Role-Ending Misdemeanor: In-Universe, Takatsuki loses on the role of Vanya because he admitted to beating a man so badly he died. Kafuku has to step in for him to avoid the play being cancelled.
  • Scars Are Forever: Played with. Watari has a scar on her cheek from when her house collapsed and killed her mom. She mentions that doctors said that they could make it less noticeable, but she chose to keep it, largely out of guilt for not doing anything to help save her mom after she got out. During the epilogue of the story, we see that she ultimately did choose to get the scar reduced after coming to terms with her guilt.
  • Sex Starts, Story Stops: This may be the only example of this being an Inverted Trope: while driving him home, Kafuku eventually reveals to Takatsuki (and Watari by dint of her being the driver) that after the death of their child, Oto withdrew from her job as a scriptwriter and became lethargic and unable to create new stories. It was only after they began having sex again that she could come up with new plotlines during coitus, which she could never remember upon climaxing so he would have to repeat the plots to her. Sex then became the only way for her to maintain her creativity. Unfortunately this also led her to start sleeping with other men.
  • Splash of Color: Invoked Trope despite this being a colour film: At the end, we see Watari on an overcast day, walking past an entire car park full of brand-new white, grey and black cars before getting in her bright red vintage SAAB.
  • The Stoic: Both Kafuku and Watari are rather un-emotive people, rarely cracking so much as a smile. This turns out to be largely a coping mechanism for both to avoid feeling both the anger and the guilt they have towards their wife and mother respectively. Once they come to terms with their pain, Kafuku is able to give a very emotional performance in a role he had avoided since his wife's death and Watari is last seen giving a genuine smile as she drives off.
  • Tap on the Head: The news broadcast on the ferry states that Takatsuki repeatedly punched his victim in the head and rendered him unconscious, and he passed away in the hospital.
  • Time Skip: After a 40-minute Prolonged Prologue that ends with Oto's death from a cerebral hemorrhage, the story skips forward two years to find Kafuku taking a gig in Hiroshima, directing a production of Uncle Vanya.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Seen repeatedly with Oto during her sex scenes with Kafuku, as she composes her scripts during intercourse.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: During one of their drinking sessions after work, Kafuku tells Takatsuki that he has poor control of himself, which the latter readily admits to, but Kafuku also notes while this is not good for functioning in society, it's also not necessarily a bad thing for his profession as an actor. Said poor impulse control is demonstrated when Takatsuki loses his temper at a man taking his picture in public, leading him to beat him to death, and also likely played a role in his history of sexual misconduct, such as his affair with Oto and his previous inappropriate relationship with a minor.
  • Translator Buddy: Yoon-su, who is fluent in Korean, Korean Sign Language, Japanese, and English, translates his mute wife Yoon-a's KSL for other characters. He also repeats Kafuku's Japanese instructions in English for the cast members who don't speak Japanese.
  • Underage Casting: In-Universe, Takatsuki protests that he's too young to play the 47-year-old Vanya and that the audience will notice.