Drive My Car/ドライブ・マイ・カー

Spoiler alert

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I went to watch Drive My Car some time ago. I haven’t watched many Japanese films because a lot of Japanese films in the drama genre are very subtle, slow, emotional, and take a lot of energy to digest. Drive My Car is based on Murakami’s book, Men without Women. Murakami used to be one of my favorite writers when I was in school, and for about the same reason, I became not so fond of his books over the years. There are many films based on Murakami’s books, for example, Burning, which is a South Korean adaptation of his book. I love that film, I may write another post about it.

The story started with a couple. The husband, Yūsuke Kafuku(家福悠介) is a stage actor and director, the wife, Oto(音) is a writer, they had a daughter who died when she was four, and Kafuku and Oto tried to cope and get back on their feet. After their daughter died, Oto starts to narrate stories after having sex with Kafuku. She couldn’t remember the stories, so she always asked Kafuku what her story was about the next day and those stories become the materials of her writing. Kafuku found out she had been having sex with others, but he never confront her and pretended as if nothing happened. One day when he returned home, he found her dead because of a brain hemorrhage. That’s the day she wanted to talk to him, and sadly he could never find out what she wanted to talk about.

He continued his life and tried to cope with the fact that she was gone. He got involved with directing the play Uncle Vanya, when he was casting the actors, he saw the young actor Takatsuki(高槻) who used to be one of Oto’s lovers. He cast him for the role of Uncle Vanya. At the same time, he met his new driver, Misaki(みさき), who drove him around every day during the theatre production. And the stories between Kafuku, Takatsuki, and Misaki began.

The story

A girl likes a boy. She used to sneek into the boy’s house when no one’s home and each time when she left the house, she would leave something. She forbid herself to masturbate in his house, but one day, she did. While she was masturbating, she heard the sound of someone else coming back to the house. She felt nervous, and guessing who that would be. It turned out it was a thief, the thief saw her half naked, and tried to rape her. She tried to fight back and killed him. The next day, she went to school and being ready to confess to the boy about everything, and prepared to take the consequences about what she did, but the boy didn’t behave any differently, as if nothing happened. The only change is the boy’s family installed an camera in front of the house. She was so confused, she killed someone, but nobody blamed her, the days passed by as they used to be, people around her lived their lives as they used to live. She looked back at the camera installed in front of the house, and confessed her crime.

This is the story Oto told both Kafuku and Takatsuki, Kafuku didn’t know about the part where the thief came in.

It’s the most interesting part of the film to me, I think this is Oto’s way to tell him what she has been doing, she wants his attention. Both of them have been suffering from the loss of their daughter, and the death of their daughter also created devastating damage to their relationship. They love each other so much and they both are afraid of losing the other. Oto wants to get his attention by cheating on him with different men, and secretly wanted Kafuku to find out, she’s like the girl in the story, she took men back to their house and had sex with them at home, she has been leaving traces to Kafuku, and hoping he would get angry at her to prove he still loves her, but nothing happened. On the other hand, Kafuku loves her so much, that he doesn’t want to break the balance between them, so even though he saw Oto has been cheating on him, he chose to say nothing, he chose to do nothing. He listens to her story and knew Oto is telling him she has been cheating on him, it hurts him so much, but still, he pretends those are just stories. What he doesn’t know is Oto is trying to tell him that she needs him, she needs to know he still loves her.

The plays

There are two theatrical plays in the film, they were cleverly used to show the hidden feelings of the characters.

The first play is Waiting for Godot, which was briefly shown at the beginning of the film. Oto introduced Kafuku and Takatsuki to each other(another trace she’s leaving). It is a metaphor for Oto and Kafuku’s relationship. They’ve been suffering, they have been waiting for their Godot, they don’t know what it is, they don’t know when it will be, they just hope Godot will arrive and maybe their suffering will stop. It’s sad, and meaningless, but also let them keep hope.

The other is Uncle Vanya. There was one scene showing Kafuku playing Uncle Vanya on the stage right after Oto died, he couldn’t finish the lines of Vanya contented on Yelena about Yelena’s loyalty to her husband, he was deeply hurt by the betrayal and by Oto’s death. There was so much memory of Oto in Uncle Vanya, so he decides to not play the role again because it brings his own feelings out of the character.

The plays by Kafuku are both multilingual production, each character speaks a different language in the play. They don’t necessarily understand the language, but they share the emotion; in the contrast, people like Oto and Kafuku, even though they speak the same languages, still couldn’t understand each other’s feelings.

Two years after Oto’s death, Kafuku was invited to direct the play, Uncle Vanya, he couldn’t play, so he let Takatsuki take the role. The two men who both love Oto deeply start to know each other through the play, through the role, and through them, they started to know Oto better.

The redemption

Misaki was introduced when Kafuku went to Hiroshima for the play. She was the appointed driver to drive Kafuku between home and the theatre. She’s quiet, and an introvert but takes care of his car carefully and drives impressively well. She’s a different line of the film, the story of her is the story B of the film, the storyline about redemption. She had a traumatizing childhood. Although she and Kafuku are from different backgrounds and come from different places, both of them are suffering, struggling, and couldn’t find a way out. During the preparation for the play, they get to know each other and opened up to each other because they understand the pain. After Takatsuki was arrested and couldn’t play Uncle Vanya anymore, Misaki took Kafuku back to her destroyed and abandoned house where she grew up, they finally faced their agony and started to find some peace in their heart. At the end of the film, Kafuku played Vanya again and Misaki drove her car and started her new life in South Korea.


I quite like the film, especially the clever tangle of the plays and the real lives of the characters in the film, still, there are quite a few things I don’t like about it.

Firstly it’s unnecessarily long in my opinion. The film is three hours. It’s not about time, many very good films are three hours or even four hours long, but only if the narratives need that much time to be laid out or the world in the film needs time to be built up, otherwise it’s just prolix. There was a scene about Kafuku having a car accident, it is a bit out of nowhere, not helping build the narratives and it’s never referred to for the rest of the film.

Secondly, the role of Takatsuki doesn’t have any complexity in the character himself. The existence of the character is just an instrument to make the story continue. He needs to be there so that Oto can use him to cheat on her husband. He needs to be there taking the role of Vanya first and killing someone and get arrested so that Kafuku has to face the tough choice to take and play the role or let all the efforts in the production waste. He has to be there to tell Kafuku the rest of Oto’s story so that Kafuku would finally know what Oto was thinking. It is just too obvious, the director didn’t even bother to explain how he can kill someone on the street within two mins and not have any drop of blood on him.

Thirdly, almost all the big moments are done via dialogues, the dialogues of Kafuku with Takatsuki finally let him know Oto’s thoughts. The dialogues with Misaki in Hokkaido finally let both of them open up, face the pain and let the past go, starting their new life. I can tell the style from Murakami’s book, but books and films are very different mediums, and the languages and narrative methods are very different as well. If a film only uses massive dialogs without cinematic language and expressions, a film loses its charm.

All in all, I quite like it, not a lot, but still.

Leave a Reply