Drive My Car goes the distance
Covid concerns cause enough worries about how to release movies. Tack on a three-hour running time with Japanese dialogue, much of it translated from the Chekov play Uncle Vanya, and those worries expand like a sponge in water. Long. Talky. Ordinary action. Those descriptions suit Drive My Car, due this month for a more widespread U.S. release. Despite initial limited viewing opportunities, Drive My Car showed up on many ten best lists plus recently earned nominations not just for the best foreign language Oscar, but in the running as overall best picture. Substantiating that recognition comes Ryusuke Hamaguchi's nomination as best director. He and his movie deserve those nods. Watching the film a few months before all the hype, I vaguely expected some connection to the Beatles song, “Drive My Car,” lightweight and amusing. Wrong! Themes of love and loss, emptiness and fullness, menial labor and artistic expression go way beyond any pop song. These big-scaled ideas come in a straightforward format from a short story rather than epic novel. Effective simplicity often disguises detailed complications, and Drive My Car succeeds on many levels, juxtaposing the differences between realities and beliefs, wants and needs. Much of this happens in what initially seems a basic setting, modern-day Hiroshima. But its explosive history means Hiroshima never qualifies as uncomplicated, and the city’s reputation lends underlying emotion to the story’s characters and their interactions. Also interwoven throughout the story, dialogue and scenes from the playwright Anton Chekov add heft to events with his proven masterpiece that explores mundane lives. Following a similar direction as Chekov, Drive My Car speeds past the ordinary into extraordinary terrain.