While 2021 was a stellar year for international films, “Drive My Car” has emerged as the favorite of critics. The Japanese film, written and directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, adapting the Haruki Murakami short story of the same name, is a poignant exploration of grief and the connection made between a theater director and his driver. Hamaguchi was approached to adapt a Murakami story to the screen but would only agree to it if was “Drive My Car.” “I really wanted to see the depiction of his world, his worldview, and see how that would be on the screen,” says Hamaguchi in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby. “This despair and other feelings of the characters that are actually transitioned by this small hope that takes place throughout the film.” Watch the full video interview with Hamaguchi above.
Some stories don’t lend themselves to the big screen, but Hamaguchi found cinematic potential in the “Drive My Car” short story. Many scenes center on Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and his driver, Misaki (Tōko Miura) engaged in conversation as they gradually learn more about each other and come to help each other move forward with their lives. “Having conversations within the car itself, I think, is something that lends itself to being cinematic because you have something that’s actually moving,” explains Hamaguchi. “And then again, within the space, you’re having this conversation. It’s a way to build up relationships between the characters.”
Kafuku’s journey intersects with the play he is mounting, Anton Chekhov‘s “Uncle Vanya,” which is briefly touched on in the original short story. Hamaguchi found it important to expand on this for the film, with Kafuku, who is also starring in his play, reciting lines that relate to his own feelings. “This fills in the gaps of the emotions that Kafuku’s not expressing,” states Hamaguchi. “It adds this explanation that we are not getting directly from Kafuku, but actually directly relates to his life and, as a result, the audience is able to understand or feel the emotions that Kafuku has.” The director notes that both the play and this story of Kafuku are interpreting in each other, as we see the progression of the play and the Janus Films production.
Hamaguchi did not have a big-picture theme like “grief” in mind while adapting “Drive My Car,” but this is the common word used by audiences who have spoken with him about the film. He acknowledges that the story does indeed center on grief, but it also about how living a good life involves going through such hard experiences and coming out the other side. “I think that really speaks to the universality of this story that this is something that affects anyone who’s living their lives and if they live a rich life that’s something that’s certainly going to happen to them more than once, and this happens, but life goes on,” he adds. “Life has to go on and it’s through the repetition of this that we build our lives.”
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