Drive My Car

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Drive My Car movie

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Bob Hoose

Movie Review

Yûsuke Kafuku is an accomplished man, an actor and respected director known for his multilingual productions. He uses actors from around the world who speak in their native tongues while translations for the audience are projected on screens above the stage.

Yûsuke is married to Oto, a television writer who is herself a very respected creator. And they work well together in every way, even tying their creative process into a fervent sex life. They come up with ideas for exotic stories together, narrating them out lushly in their post-coital moments.

All is not perfect between them, however. After a flight to a theater festival is unexpectedly delayed, Yûsuke returns home to find his wife having sex with a young actor from her television production.  He quickly walks away, distraught and unseen, but convinced that he should stay silent about what he saw. When Oto later dies unexpectedly from a brain hemorrhage, all Yûsuke has left is silence.

Two years later, grief still consumes Yûsuke’s life. In fact, he still drives in his little red Saab to productions playing a practice tape that Oto once created for him to help with his character’s dialogue memorization. She speaks and he responds. He knows Anton Chekhov’s lines by heart. But that same heart won’t let him stop replaying Oto’s tape.

And it just so happens that a festival event has hired Yûsuke for a two-month production of the very play that he can’t stop repeating: Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. And so he drives and repeats. He stays connected. He even purposely chooses housing that’s an hour away from the Hiroshima festival just so he can spend time with Oto’s voice during the drive.

When he arrives at the festival, however, the producers mandate that he has a chauffeur for liability reasons. His assigned driver is a buttoned-up woman named Misaki. Yûsuke objects. He refuses. But in the end, he must live with this woman driving and being in his car.

Misaki’s a good driver. A good listener. And as time and events unfold, it begins to seem like Misaki may well be very good for Yûsuke Kafuku, too.

Positive Elements

Both Yûsuke and Misaki talk about the pain and loss in their life. They both carry the weight of personal guilt as well. Between those conversations and others (and the lines of characters in the Chekhov play rehearsals and performance) the film makes it clear that although grief shapes us, we can’t let it destroy us. We can never give up.

Yûsuke talks, for example, of how the death of their young daughter devastated both him and Oto. And while the overwhelming anguish forced them to turn from some parts of their lives, it also helped them begin new healthy chapters in their life and relationship.

Along with all the various languages in the Chekhov production, Yûsuke also casts a young woman who uses sign language. And that addition makes the actress’ scenes—which include messages about endurance in life and God’s grace—particularly poignant.

Ultimately Yûsuke and Misaki help each other find emotional healing as well as a peace about their own tortured pasts. In that light, someone notes, “If you really want to know someone, you must look at yourself, squarely and deeply.” And the film’s end strongly hints at new beginnings for both.

Spiritual Elements

Yûsuke and Oto visit a shrine to their deceased young daughter. Later, Yûsuke holds a similar, shrine-based funeral for Oto.

The play Uncle Vanya talks about God giving us pity and offering us peace at the end of our lives. Yûsuke notes that his wife’s married name meant “house of the gospel” in Japanese, something that she wasn’t very happy with.

One of Oto’s stories refers to a young girl’s past life as a lamprey (an eel-like fish).

Sexual Content

In the opening scene we see Yûsuke and Oto naked in bed. She’s initially only seen from the front sitting up in silhouette. Then we see her bare back and Yûsuke’s bared chest. Later we see them, twice, in the midst of kissing and caressing sensual movements and suggestive sounds. His bare back and backside are exposed, as well as her bare back.

Yûsuke also spots Oto having sex with a young famous actor, Kôji Takatsuki, from the TV production she works for. (We see her bare shoulders and his bare back.) We later hear that Takatsuki was also wrapped up in a scandal with a girl who was a minor.

In fact, Takatsuki auditions for Yûsuke’s play production and gets rather physical with a young actress before Yûsuke stops him. Later, Yûsuke and Takatsuki talk about the younger man’s lack of control. And he states that there is much more than sexual attraction to forming and maintaining a healthy relationship.

One of Oto’s stories involves a young girl who repeatedly sneaks into the house of a teen boy she has a crush on. She leaves small tokens behind in the boy’s room (such as an unused tampon). Later in the story the girl strips and fondles herself. When she’s caught, she’s nearly raped.

A young actress wears a formfitting top.

Violent Content

An actor is arrested for getting into a fight with a man and beating him so forcefully that the man dies. (We don’t see the attack.) An actor shoots a pistol during a play.

Yûsuke finds his wife after she collapses on the floor. She later dies from a brain hemorrhage. We hear that Yûsuke and Oto’s four-year-old daughter died of pneumonia.

Misaki talks of a landslide that once destroyed her home and killed her mother. It left a visible scar on her cheek. A man in a play talks about getting rope to hang himself.

Yûsuke is in a minor accident with another driver because of a developing eyesight issue. Misaki talks of her mother kicking and hitting her as a girl. One of Oto’s stories tells of a girl who kills a man by stabbing him with a pen.

Crude or Profane Language

There are two crudities in this film, both from the stage performance of Uncle Vanya: one use of “d–n” and one blending of God’s name with “d–n.”

Drug and Alcohol Content

Both Misaki and Yûsuke smoke repeatedly as does Kôji Takatsuki. Yûsuke and Kôji Takatsuki drink glasses of alcohol in a bar on two different occasions.

Other Negative Elements

Someone suggests that worries over infidelity—especially if that partner is also loving—are foolish.

Conclusion

In spite of its title, Drive My Car is far from driving. To American movie sensibilities, this three-hour film, with its leisurely scenes of people reading Chekhov lines during play rehearsals, can sometimes seem more akin to painful idling than driving. In fact, the first 40 minutes of the movie all take place before the opening credits roll.

But this Japanese film, based on a short story published in the New Yorker, has quite a bit for viewers to ruminate upon if they can slow their minds down, read through all the many English subtitles, and forget about the clock. The film wrestles emotionally with our shared experience of grief and loss—how those experiences can destroy or transform.

The movie also weaves in scenes from Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya to illustrate its point that surviving grief, taking time to listen and embracing those we love are the only viable choices in life. We must keep living, Chekhov’s characters tells us, until the end when God gives us peace.

Those are powerful statements made all the more powerful because of the characters we’ve come to know so well over our long movie time together. That’s not, however, all there is to consider here.

Drive My Car also has a substantial amount of sensual content to navigate. Several realistic sex scenes leave some anatomy hidden but not much else. And the film also promotes a variety of secular ethos, such as the suggestion that marital infidelity is yet another thing to be endured and not concerned so much about.

There is a thoughtful beauty about this slowly paced film. But, as with life itself, it comes with prices to pay and discomforts to weather that may discourage some from taking this cinematic road trip.

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Bob Hoose

After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.