‘Drive My Car’, first Japanese film nominated for Best Picture

“Drive My Car” arrives at the MV Film Center on Friday, March 11. Despite its clunky title, this 2021 film is a major achievement. It is adapted from a short story by famous Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. The awards he has won or been nominated for demonstrate his excellence. “Drive My Car” received accolades from the National Society of Film Critics, the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Additionally, it earned four Academy Award nominations: as Best Picture Japanese Debut; Best Director, Best International Film and Best Adapted Screenplay.

It’s important to know these marks of excellence, given that the film is nearly three hours long and dependent on subtitles. It’s still worth watching.

“Drive My Car” is divided into two parts. In the first, viewers watch prominent middle-aged actor and director Yusuke (Hidetoshi Nishiji) make love to his wife Oto (Reika Kirishima). Thereafter, she describes the story she imagined during their carnal game. It tells the story of a woman who sneaks into the house of the boy she is obsessed with, leaving behind a sign of his presence. In a scene that follows, Yusuke appears in a production of “Waiting for Godot”. Afterwards, Oto introduces a television actor, Toji Takatsuki (Masaki Okada), an admirer who asked to meet Yusuke. Unbeknownst to Yusuke, Toji is the newest of Oto’s multiple lovers.

When Yusuke arrives home early after his flight is canceled, he finds his wife passionately making love to Toji, but despite the shock, Yusuke leaves unnoticed. Later, Oto tells Yusuke that she wants to have a serious talk with him. Disturbed, he delays returning home. When he arrives, he finds her dead of a cerebral hemorrhage.

While playing the lead role in “Uncle Vanya”, Yusuke collapses. The first 40 minutes of “Drive My Car” are over and the credits roll, but the movie isn’t over. In fact, the real movie has only just begun. Enter the film’s icon, a bright red 1987 Saab 900 Turbo, Yusuke’s most prized possession. While Yusuke is driving, he listens to a tape of his wife reading “Uncle Vanya” and leaving space for her part.

Two years pass and viewers see that the show’s sponsors have hired Yusuke to direct “Uncle Vanya” for production in Hiroshima. Yusuke, however, is required to allow someone else to take over the driving of his car due to his development of glaucoma, and is assigned a driver, Misaki Watari (Toko Miura), by the festival of theater for which he works. Reluctantly, he agrees, and the viewer meets Misaki, a reluctant young woman in a blue-collared dress. Over time, a relationship between the two begins to develop. Misaki waits by the car, while Yusuke oversees the rehearsal for the play. Although young for it, Toji was given the role of Uncle Vanya by Yusuke. After Toji is imprisoned for murder, the play’s producers tell Yusuke that he must play the role or the show will be canceled.

The relationship between Yusuke and Misaki is perhaps the most important in a film with a complex narrative. The two share a grief that is one of the messages of this remarkable film. “Drive My Car” is three hours well spent.

Information and tickets for “Drive My Car” are available at mvfilmsociety.com. For more information on movies playing at Edgartown Cinemas, visit entertainmentcinemas.com/locations/edgartown.

Marie A. Evans