One of 2021’s longest films is also one of the year’s best.
“Drive My Car,” a Japanese film, centers on Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a former TV actor who now works in stage productions. In the film, Yusuke has been hired as the stage director for a show in another city.
There, the company he works for has arranged for a driver, Misaki (Toko Mirua), to shuttle him across town. Over the course of the film, Yusuke and Misaki begin to form a friendship and discuss their pasts that still weigh on them.
“Drive My Car” is a profound, raw exploration of loss, grief and resentment. Yusuke’s past, including his marriage, is a storm raging inside of him, despite the man having a calm, reserved appearance.
Trying to move on from difficult events in one’s life while still carrying emotional weight from days gone by is a common part of the human condition, and this movie captures this immensely well. It’s an exceptionally moving and compelling drama to watch unfold, as Yusuke considers his life and interacts with those around him.
What’s so well done about “Drive My Car” is how light of a touch director and co-writer Ryusuke Hamaguchi gives the movie. There is a massive amount of restraint Hamaguchi put in the production which makes the film rather authentic, as often we suppress emotions after a rough time to limit vulnerability. There’s real truth in this cinematic experience.
That truth extends to what it’s like to be in a car. It’s really a smart setting for much of the movie, because a car can be a place where people can do a lot of thinking and plenty of talking.
The slow burn pace, combined with spending time with Yusuke and Misaki in the car for much of the movie, really allows the audience to get inside the heads of these characters. There’s such a depth of feeling in these moments, even when little is being said.
It’s impressive how Hamaguchi was able to keep an audience mostly hooked in for the film’s three hour runtime. However, some of the picture felt more necessary than other moments. The movie at points, mostly in the first and third acts, could have been slightly trimmed down.
Additionally, while the reserved approach works for nearly the entire movie, there is a subplot at play where many of the characters seem too subdued. Not that the film needed any explosive outbursts, but the reactions related to this piece of the movie feel unrealistically held back.
These are all minor complaints, though, for what is overall an exceptional drama. In addition to the careful, calculated direction by Hamaguchi and the charged, captivating writing, “Drive My Car” is largely aided by its cast.
Nishijima is phenomenal as the lead character, capturing the depth of emotions Yusuke is going through. He without a doubt gives one of 2021’s best performances. Mirua deserves credit as well, accurately capturing a young adult who’s sort of stuck in neutral.
The cinematography is praise-worthy as well. The camerawork during the driving scenes create a tranquil, calming atmosphere. The characters are often on an open road, giving them a platform to think and talk as the world passes by.
“Drive My Car” is definitely a drama worth watching. Following the characters as they deal with their past before navigating their future is a tremendous experience, thanks to great work by the cast and crew. 4.75 out of 5.