Greg and Zanna discuss the long and winding road of Drive My Car.
SCORES Number of cars: 1 Number of occupants: 2 Number of deaths: 3
For the first time in our review history, Greg and I didn’t watch this movie together – he was interviewing director Ryusuke Hamaguchi and had to watch it in advance. Because Greg needs everyone he meets to like him, his review is of course now grossly compromised. Mine is less, which is why I can say Drive My Car is a really long movie and I feel good about it. I can also say that he has an inordinate number of shots of a red car driving through various Japanese landscapes—highly efficient highway networks, tunnels, coastal highways, and snowy rural roads—with impunity.
I would like to continue in this way, tearing up this movie because Greg can’t or won’t but unfortunately I enjoyed it too much. There’s a reason road trip movies are their own genre, which this movie doesn’t really belong to. There is something very evocative in the image of a traveling car: a symbol of new beginnings, the desire to escape, to leave the past behind, among others. Cars bring together strangers who prefer not to sit so close together in a confined space. And they provide the perfect setting for two people who know each other very well to have a tough conversation without ever having to look each other in the eye. Both of these scenarios happen in this film to great effect.
The central story is based on an actor (Hidetoshi Nishijima) who travels to Hiroshima after the death of his wife to direct a production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and receives a young conductor (Toko Miura) with whom he trains an unexpected link. Over its three hours, it explores grief and its entanglement with guilt and how we blame ourselves and others, which is to say, it’s not a lighthearted film. You would be hard pressed to find a frame in which either of the two protagonists is smiling. But it’s an emotionally moving film that takes a circuitous but meaningful path to its conclusion.
There are long scenes of the multilingual cast of Uncle Vanya in rehearsal which, for me, was an interesting detour in the acting process. However, someone more literary than me, someone like Greg, could better articulate the meaning of the piece in relation to the subject of the film. Now that I’ve read his review, however, I see that he chose not to say anything about anything, which I can’t imagine will make him love Hamaguchi as much as he might think. .
When Zanna asked me what I thought of the film. I went as far as, “If I think of feeling…” before she interrupted him for the first time. “Can you try not to put the frozen fruit at the bottom of the freezer? she says. “It’s for breads and buns.” I continued, “If I think about real human feeling and the evocation of it…” “Mmhmm,” she said, interrupting me and looking annoyed, despite the fact that it was only my second sentence attempt and she hadn’t allowed me to finish the first either. “Let’s just accept for the sake of this situation, I said, that a film is a machine for manufacturing human feelings. Can we accept that, just a second? “Okay,” she said, “Never mind.” “You seem very angry about this,” I said. “Well, you do great performances because you want to create something for the revue and there’s nothing that drives me crazier.” I told her that wasn’t what I was doing but I could see she didn’t believe me. I insisted, “I guess what I could boil this down to…” “Yeah,” she interrupted, “Let’s narrow it down.” “…Is it this: did it produce a feeling in me? And what was that feeling? And I guess when you ask whether a movie was good or not, you make assumptions about the feeling that he’s trying to create, and you say, ‘Did he succeed in that? Did he succeed on his own terms?’ So we’re trying to figure out what the terms were. If we look at the central action of the film, it’s really the setting of the play, but I would say the most important events are the three deaths. So the first one was …” “Yeah,” she said, interrupting, “I know what the three deaths are.” “Do you just want to move on to your thoughts?” I said. “No, no,” she said, “I just want you to say something that isn’t in the riddles.” “How did the three dead speak to each other? I said. “What do they say and how do they speak to us?” “Wait,” she said. “Before, you asked, ‘Does the film evoke a feeling and does it manage to do so?’ You haven’t finished this reflection.” “That’s part of it,” I said. “Mmhmm,” she said out loud, and sighed. I continued, “So I think we need to look at each of the three deaths and what they… “Ugh!” she says. “It’s like listening to a podcast!” I found this confusing. She loves podcasts. “After all your chatter,” she said, “you haven’t said yet what kind of feeling you think the movie is trying to evoke.” “I try to achieve it as I say,” I said. “Trying to figure it out.” “A feeling is something that happens in the moment,” she said. That’s true, I thought, but it’s also something that can linger long after.