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  • Wendy Shreve

DRIVE MY CAR GETS BY ON FUMES

Updated: Jan 17

What can we do? We must live our lives.

Sonia, Uncle Vanya


The penultimate quote above from the final act of Anton Chekov's Uncle Va comes after distraught, philosophical discussions prior to Sonia's declaration. Vanya takes the lead in these ruminations but do they make him happy?


Well, after two hours and fifty-nine minutes of Japan's much-lauded film, Drive My Car (ドライブ・マイ・カー, 2021), if the viewer has little familiarity with Chekov's work, the point of the movie maybe be lost.

Haruki Murakami's titular short story, on which Drive My Car was based, has a simple plot. A distraught widower finds hope and some resolution when he and a young, female chauffeur forge a bond.


Less is more in a short story but that can't be said for this movie. Yes, the visual elements, technique--a scene in which Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) sits at his desk facing Hiroshima Bay, exemplifies a multi-layered moment in one shot--impress. However, seeing the chauffeur, Misaki, (Tôko Miura) driving Yûsuke in his SAAB on the highway multiple times; hearing many excerpts from Chekov's Uncle Vanya on tape (Yûsuke's late wife, Oto, reads the women's' scene involving Vanya), and listening to the actors rehearsing the play, i.e. reading their lines repeatedly, detracts from the narrative.


Having a familiarity with Chekhov, Asian culture--Japanese in particular--Hiroshima's tragic history, and an ability to appreciate sign language for the hearing impaired (Korean version of ASL) will help, as it did with this critic. Curiosity as to how the story will resolve also keeps one's attention to an extent.


And, the actors (other notables include Masaka Okada as Kôji, Sonia Yuan as Janice Chan; Reika Kirishima as Oto) embody their roles with ease. But its Park Yurim (Yoo-rim Park) as Lee Yoo-na that astonishes with her languid, natural beauty and her effortlessness with sign language. She almost steals the movie.


Dialogue adapted from Marukami's story intermixed with Chekhov's lines from Uncle Vanya inject much meaning into a plot that has been stretched like taffy, losing its consistency and weight with overstuffed melodrama making the movie less palatable.


Had Writer/Director Hamaguchi Ryūsuke and Co-Writer Takamasa Oe tightened the narrative, two hours would've been sufficient, the beauty of what could've been would have risen to the surface, emphasizing the tragedy of one versus diffusing the misfortune of many. Yet arguably, many stories of suffering--if connected more effectively--could've been interpreted as a metaphor for the devastating history of Hiroshima at the end of World War II.


Much of Drive My Car comprises memorable scenes. Curiosity may be reason enough to see this award-winning film--at home. Be prepared, nevertheless, to fast forward (if watch on DVD or Blu-Ray) or get a snack from the kitchen.


Unrated. Nudity, a surprising lack of explicit violence for a change, smoking, and tragic circumstances/stories.


Now playing at select theaters. LOCALS -- see it at the Cape Cinema, Dennis, MA.



Earlier reviews not seen on this website (before May 20, 2021) are available on https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/wendy-shreve/movies or my previous blog site, featuringfilm.com



Care to share? Send your comments to featuringfilmreviewer@gmail.com

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