The Japanese road movie crowned at Cannes arrives in French theaters


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Drive My Car, winner of the best screenplay prize at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, has just opened in French cinemas. Unusual and poetic, Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s road movie, interspersed with literary references, takes the main characters on an inner journey that tackles mourning, love and the creative process. RFI met the director during his visit to the Croisette in July.

The main character Yusuke Kakufu played by Hidetoshi Nishijima is an actor and director in his forties who accepts a job in Hiroshima during a theater festival.

He’s clearly trying to rebuild his life after the sudden death two years earlier of his beloved wife Oto, played by Reika Kirishima, who happened to be a screenwriter. He also tries to come to terms with his wife’s secret affairs, including one with a young actor who becomes entangled in the story.

When Kafuku arrives at the Hiroshima Arts Center, he finds he has been assigned a driver to drive him around in his own cherished vintage car, a bright red Saab 900. He is uncomfortable with it, but organizers insist it is for his safety.

On top of that, it has to be led by a young woman called Misaki, played by Toko Miura, who is taciturn and aloof. Admitting that she is extremely efficient in her work, he gradually accepts the situation and overcomes his reluctance.

long winding road

This is not a movie for those expecting thrills and adventure. The action is based on a melancholic and mysterious inner journey, set in the comfortable enclosure of the car, which provides the perfect sheltered space for a man to come to terms with his painful past.

Her road trip is a cathartic experience, which in turn frees Misaki from her own personal burden.

Drive my Car, a film by Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi, in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, July 2021. ©Cannes Film Festival / DR

Throughout the film, there are references to writers past and present, and to the writing process, clearly a sacred part of the filmmaking process for Ryusuke Hamaguchi, who both directed and co-wrote the screenplay.

Not only is it an adaptation of a short story by world-renowned novelist Haruki Murakami, originally called Men without women (2014), it incorporates dialogues from the play Uncle Vanya by the Russian writer Anton Chekhov, a work that Kafuku knows by heart and which he stages in Hiroshima.

Kafuku is also a deliberate Japanese variant of the name of the writer Franz Kafka, known as Hamaguchi, another reference to Murakami who wrote a novel called Kafka on the shore published in 2002.

Hamaguchi openly admits that he loved Murakami’s characters so much that he decided to spend three hours telling their story. Although the result is a little long and sometimes repetitive, the director insists that it was a necessary process to allow the characters to reveal themselves “in a natural way”.

Hope at the end of the journey

“When I adapted his short novel into a film, of course I had to make some changes, but I believe that all these changes were made with respect for Murakami’s work,” he told RFI after the premiere in Cannes.

“There is always the same method in his long novels, where there are many layers in the same universe. There’s also finding hope at the end of a long journey, and that’s the part I really wanted to honor in the film.

The place given to language and universal expression by the theater is poignant. There is a magical quality to the fact that the play Kafuku is rehearsing is performed by actors of different nationalities who perform their lines in their native languages ​​(including Korean, Japanese, English, Cantonese, Mandarin and even sign language) with subtitles appearing on The Stage.

This is Hamaguchi’s second appearance at the Cannes Film Festival; his film Asako I & II was selected for the competition in 2018. At only 42 years old, he is considered the new figurehead of Japanese cinema, having won several awards at prestigious European film festivals.

He wrote the screenplay for Kiyoshi Kurosawa wife of a spywho won the Silver Lion in Venice in 2020.

His Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize in Berlin in 2021 and will be released in France later this year.

drive my carco-written with Takamasa Oe won him the Best Screenplay award at Cannes 2021. It was released in France on August 18.

Who else has won awards at Cannes? Find out here


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