The only similarity that the title of Ryuskuke Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car” has with The Beatles song is its name. No, “Drive My Car” (unfortunately) does not feature a scene featuring Yûsuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima) singing “But I’ve got a driver and that’s a start” to Misaki (Tôko Miura), but it is one of the most well-paced films of the year. It is especially impressive that “Drive My Car” is a three-hour film not named “The Godfather” or “Seven Samurai.” “Drive My Car” is a brilliantly acted film that is equally brilliantly directed.
What cannot be stressed enough is that “Drive My Car” is a breezy three hours. It lacks the big thrills of a CGI-filled tentpole movie, but it is far more engaging than another three-hour movie such as “Eternals.” “Drive My Car” is an ambient film. Like Misaki’s driving, it’s smooth and you feel as though you are gliding through the film. Hell, the title card doesn’t even appear until 40 minutes in, but you won’t even notice as the film is just that interesting. The dialogue is very quiet but is never boring. There is a completely hypothetical conversation that runs through a potential script and is completely enthralling. You don’t see the actions being described, but the delivery and the script worked together in perfect harmony. The greatest example of this is when Kôji (Masaki Okada) is having a conversation with Yûsuke in his car. The conversation takes a turn with some uncomfortable subject matter. After the driver, Misaki is acknowledged, the camera only shifts between the two characters speaking. The dialogue isn’t necessarily snappy like Adam McKay’s scripts, but the stories the two share are enough to make you forget that 10 minutes have gone by.
One of the prevalent themes of “Drive My Car” is grief. Despite losing his wife, Yûsuke cannot escape Oto (Reika Kirishima). The scripts that both wrote are usually metaphors for things that have actually transpired. So even after two years, Yûsuke is still faced with her. It certainly doesn’t help that an actor who Yûsuke walked in on with his wife reemerged in his life during the auditions for his play in the last two-thirds of the movie. His way of “getting back” at him is making his audition as awkward as possible and being so much harder on him during rehearsals. Yûsuke isn’t a malicious person, even if he may have some right to be upset, and that comes through when he still takes the young actor under his wing and has drinks with him on a couple of occasions. Even when it felt as though he was going to lose it on the actor he ends up simmering. It’s a remarkable performance from Hideotoshi Nishijima that should be recognized in some capacity. Yûsuke doesn’t find any sort of true catharsis until the very end when Misaki takes him on a long trip to her hometown. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Yûsuke is thrown into acting in the play he wrote, but he is finally able to (seemingly) let go of his past by this point.
But grief is not the only area that Yûsuke makes growth. Driving is Yûsuke’s escape; even before his wife’s death, he loved to drive and a car accident almost takes that away from him. When he is assigned a driver for his time on the multilingual play, he is (understandably) hesitant. But the remaining parts of the film show their relationship grow without making it into a cheesy “Hollywood” love story. For starters, there is a noticeable age gap, so it wouldn’t really make sense for them to get close in that way. But they help each other grow from their grief while spending most of their time together in Yûsuke’s car (and a garbage dump on one occasion).
Ryuskuke Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car” is a triumph that shows what a three-hour movie can be. The story of “Drive My Car” is small-scale in comparison to the runtime of the film, but it’s a study of what grief looks like without sugarcoating it; very similarly to Rebecca Hall’s character in “The Night House” and never hits speed bumps during its runtime.
“Drive My Car” is in select theaters now and is expanding markets each week. For theater listings, click here.