Review by Michele E. Hawkins.
Actor and theatre director Yūsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and his screenwriter wife, Oto (Reika Kirishima), intimately share in the creation of her stories — an intimacy that binds the couple closely together. Both Yūsuke and Oto have busy work lives, but their home life is peaceful and loving.
Life, though, is rarely straightforward, and even Yūsuke and Oto face the cost of secrets and suffer the worst of heartbreaks.
After a gap of two years in their story, Yūsuke takes up a residency in Hiroshima to direct an adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and is assigned a driver, Misaki Watari (Tōko Miura). Watari is clearly holding within herself something profound from her past — something that has turned this 23-year-old into a resilient, capable survivor.
Yūsuke’s and Watari’s backgrounds and lives couldn’t have been more disparate. But what of their shared humanity?
Every performance in this production is worthy, but Hidetoshi Nishijima as Yūsuke Kafuku captivates, inhabiting the complex character of Yūsuke with tenderness, dignity, maturity, and strength. And Tōko Miura as Yūsuke’s driver provides an unexpected and fascinating foil.
The cinematography enhances the overall sense of restraint: nothing frenetic, nothing that doesn’t add depth, nothing overdone. Even the most beautiful vistas frame the characters rather than overtake them.
The film contains not a single misstep. Its quietness, subtle nuances, and depth, supported by the masterfully understated costuming and overall calm colour palette, serve to hold the viewer undistracted from the intimacy of the characters’ inner lives. The soundtrack is almost exclusively made up of the sounds of everyday life and usual background noise, with beautifully timed periods of graceful silence. The little music we hear is relevant to the story. Nothing in Drive My Car is accidental, and every detail repays close attention. This film is not to be missed.