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- Drive My Car
- Directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi
- Written by Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe, based on the short story by Haruki Murakami
- Starring Hidetoshi Nishijima, Toko Miura and Masaki Okada
- Classification N/A; 179 minutes
- Opens at Toronto’s TIFF Lightbox on Nov. 26, Edmonton’s Metro Cinema Nov. 27, Vancouver’s Vancity on Dec. 10 and other Canadian theatres throughout December
Once cinemas started reopening across North America this summer, a constant refrain was echoed by members of the film industry, from producers to directors to critics: This movie, well, you really have to see it in a theatre. Mostly, this line was used to entice wary audiences to spectacle-heavy blockbusters. The smaller art-house stuff could live or die wherever. But in that spirit, allow me to make a radical suggestion: The one film that demands to be seen on a big screen this year is a tiny little three-hour Japanese drama about grief, love and Chekhov.
Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car lacks explosions and special effects and all that other IMAX-sized stuff. Yet it necessitates, or likely greatly benefits from, becoming hermetically immersed in its expertly calibrated drama. Watching all 179 minutes of Hamaguchi’s work at home won’t exactly rob you of its passions and pleasures – that’s how I watched it, at least, over the course of three after-the-kids-are-asleep evenings – but I can imagine that being trapped with it in the dark of a theatre unlocks something a bit more magical.
Adapting Haruki Murakami’s short story of the same name, Drive My Car follows middle-aged Tokyo actor and director Yusuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima), who travels to Hiroshima to stage a multilingual version of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Still struggling with the sudden death of his screenwriter wife Oto (Reika Kirishima), Yusuke finds comfort, or at least a facsimile of catharsis, in his daily car rides to and from the theatre, provided by a quiet young local, Misaki (Toko Miura), who is coming to terms with her own past.
Hamaguchi, who has delivered two critically acclaimed works this year after the anthology film Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, captures the philosophical meanderings of Murakami without convincing himself that he’s also making the most poignant work to ever be produced. The filmmaker puts character and setting first, slowly but confidently moving the story along and gently pushing the tension when necessary without ever hitting its themes over your head.
Formally inventive – the film’s prologue eats up 41 minutes, at which point the opening credits finally appear on-screen – but tinged with a classical sensibility, Hamaguchi’s drama hits in both expected and surprising ways.
Take three hours out of your life, and enjoy one of the most fulfilling cinematic rides of the year.
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.