Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Drive My Car

 Increasingly foreign films are having an impact in British North America.  After "Parasite" (2019) won best film as well as best foreign film for the Oscars,  "Drive My Car" (2021) not only won the Oscar best foreign film, but was also nominated for best film.

 My contention for several years has been that the best foreign films are at the level of English speaking films.  Of course it is very natural to feel most comfortable with the most familiar, but when more people take a good look at foreign language films we are all better off as it will raise the standards.  Check out:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/09/parasite-breaks-oscar-tradition.html

We are introduced to the naked wife, Oto as she relates a story to Yesuke Kafaku and they collaborate on its plot.  She works for a television station responsible for scripts while he works in the theatre.  They seem to have an enjoyable sex life and it seems to involve collaborating on stories.  On another occasion when he returns unexpectedly he encounters her having sex with an actor, but discretely backs away.  At the beginning of another work day she asks him to have a serious talk, but when he arrives she has died from a cerebral hemorrhage.

The viewer skips two years after his wife's death when Yesuke is asked to direct a play "Uncle Vanya" with an international multi-lingual cast.  One requirement is that he has to accept a driver, but is given accommodation on an island with a desirable ocean view.  The driver turns out to be a young woman named Misaki Watari. 

The relationship between the two is very gradually built.  With Yesuke sitting in the back a cassette is played that lets him rehearse lines from the play.  She is not bothered and gradually becomes familiar with the lines.  He invites her to a dinner meeting with one of his assistants.  It turns out the assistant's wife, a mute actress is one of the actors in the play and the assistant had not wanted to influence the director's decision.  Misaki later attends some of the rehearsals and other conferences involving the cast.  They do in fact tell each other personal aspects of their lives.  You might expect a romance, but really it is more like a close father daughter relationship.  Misaki is a damaged person from her youth who learned to drive to take her mother back and forth to a station and learned to drive smoothly while her mother slept in the car.

At the auditions we encounter a variety of languages including one pair that do not understand each other (she speaks English and Mandarin while he speaks only Japanese).  We also watch the Korean sign language actress and various other languages that include Tagalog and Indonesian.  The first rehearsals are strict reading without emotion which puts some of the actors off, but eventually they see the merits.

An interesting relationship is between Yesuke and Koji Takasuki who was the last man Yesuke saw having sex with his wife.  Koji explains that he often had sex with women just to know them better.  Yesuke responded that "sex is not the only way to know someone."  When Yesuke's daughter died (she would have been 23, the same as Misaki) their life went downhill.  Subsequently admitted to Takasuki that Oto came up with stories after having sex, but couldn't remember them the next day, but he remembered and they developed a habit.  He knew she would have sex with other men.  A big surprise is when Koji is able to carry on with the story Yesuke and Oto talked about at the start of film.  Yesuke recognized both men loved the same woman.

As the play is almost ready for a performance Takasuki is involved in fatal brawl and has to withdraw from the play.  Yesuke is asked to take the Uncle Vanya role which he is very familiar with, but refuses at first.

The DVD provided a lot of background information which helps to appreciate the film.  Oscar winners must have more capable cast and crew to reach the podium.  Here are a few components.

Short story writer Haruki Murakami takes titles from Beatle Songs such as "Norwegian Wood"  He translated into Japanese many of the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, J.D. Salinger and John Irving. 

Teruhisa Yamamoto was a big Haruki Murakami fan and discussed with the director who also was a Murakami fan.  Then he went onto get permission to adapt "Drive My Car" for a movie.

Ryusuke Hamaguchi was the director and co-writer. Rysuke was nominated for both best directing and best adapted writing at the Oscars and did win at several festivals.  He felt a car encouraged intimate conversation, especially if the people are facing forward and not each other.   Chose a red Saab over the yellow Cabriolet in the original story for cinematographic factors.  My father had been a champion rally driver and at one time had been offered an opportunity to join the Saab team.  He turned it down, but maintained Saab was his favorite car.

Hidetoshi Nishiijima played Yusuke Kafuku, the main character who loved his wife, though well aware she had been unfaithful and found life difficult after her death.  Hideotshi had won a few awards, but "Drive my Car" garnered international awards including best actor from the National Society of Film Critics, USA..

Toko Miura played the driver, Misaki Watari.  She didn't even have a driver's license when accepted for the role.  She also is a singer and was able to take a song from "Weathering With You" (2019) to the top of the Japanese hit parade.

Reika Kirishima played Oto, the wife.  She has numerous film credits including "Norwegian Wood" (2010).

 Masaki Okada played Koji Takatsuki  who auditioned for the role of Astrov, but later he was switched to Uncle Vanya, a much older man, which displeased him.

Park yu rim plays a mute actress who uses Korean sign language.  Also in one episode of  "Extraordinary Attorney Woo" (2022),.

"Uncle Vanya" as the play within a play warranted a closer look.  Many years ago I had seen a Russian version, but only had a vague recollection of the dynamics.  The BBC version of "Uncle Vanya" (1970) displayed a younger Anthony Hopkins and it made it easier to understand Takasuki's disappointment of being expected to take on the title role.  One can also imagine how such a play could be a foundation of the film.

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