Starring: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Tôko Miura, Masaki Okada
Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Running Time: 179 mins
Drive My Car is a Japanese film about a famed theatre actor who, years after the sudden death of his wife, is brought in to direct a Chekhov play with a complex young cast, while developing an unlikely bond with the young woman who is tasked with driving him to work in his car.
Don’t let the three-hour runtime put you off. Drive My Car, while a slow and very possibly daunting prospect for many, is a brilliantly captivating watch, and one that unfolds in enthralling style towards the finale. Complete with a fantastic leading performance from Hidetoshi Nishijima, and powerful direction from Ryusuke Hamaguchi, it’s quite remarkable just how captivating every moment of this movie is.
Of course, when it runs for nearly three hours, Drive My Car is a film that has a lot of time to play with. The great thing, however, is that it uses all of that time to full advantage. Its prologue, before we see the title appear on screen, runs for something like 40 minutes, as we become accustomed to our main character and see for ourselves the back story that will determine everything that comes later on.
Peppering that opening prologue with brilliant tension and a few moments of high drama, Ryusuke Hamaguchi is able to keep you fully engrossed before the main action has even got going, all the while taking the time to let you connect and understand the characters and story that will come into play.
After the prologue, the setting moves from Tokyo to Hiroshima, as lead Nishijima, who plays a famous theatre actor, is called into direct a play which he has in the past played the lead role of. While there, and still coping with the fallout from his wife’s death two years earlier, he is provided with a young woman to drive him around, who initially doesn’t seem to play much of a role in the film.
For the first two acts of the Hiroshima-based drama, Tôko Miura exists on the fringes of the onscreen drama, as we begin to see Nishijima encounter tension in his work as director on the back of his personal relationship with one of the leading actors to perform.
The film then plays out slowly, but with a brilliant bubbling tension underneath the surface, which keeps you hooked as you watch to see which side of the central, very polite, feud is going to snap first. And when that happens, you might think that the film has done all it can.
However, the final act of Drive My Car is probably the best part of all. Working almost as an epilogue to Nishijima’s story, we finally begin to see more of his driver Miura, and the strength of their bond cements immeasurably as they open up to one another on a long drive, coming to appreciate each other’s past traumas, and how their two life stories connect.
It’s a brilliantly-written drama that uses patient, realistic dialogue throughout to great effect, bolstered by stunning understated performances that allow the tension beneath the surface to bubble up, and patient, elegant directing that uses every minute of an initially daunting three-hour runtime to full advantage. And that’s why I’m giving Drive My Car a 7.6 overall.