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Drive My Car (2021)


Drive My Car is a favorite to win the Oscar for best international film. It is also a nominee for best picture, director, and adapted screenplay. Having so many nominations does beg the question, are international actors under-recognized? Yes, yes they are. This film is wonderfully directed, but that means getting the best performances out of the cast and to have not a single actor or actress nominated is a travesty. The Oscars are taking steps in the right direction, but still, fail to recognize international actors appropriately.

The film is an adaptation of a short story but is extended to 2:59. I watched it at home, so the run time was less of an issue. The film is predominantly in Japanese but mixes in a small amount of English, Korean, Mandarin, and Korean sign language. Long sweeping shots showing off the beauty of Japan and a Red 1987 Saab 900 Turbo give your brain a rest from reading the dialog. It will also boost your desire to visit Japan and get out of the cities.

Hidetoshi Nishijima plays Yûsuke Kafuku, an acclaimed stage director and actor. He is staging a performance of Uncle Vanya where all the actors speak different languages. Saabs, until their last few model years of existence, were quirky cars. They were popular with the artsy and intellectual set. It is a perfect car to fit Kafuku’s personality. It is even a left-hand drive model in a country built around right-hand drive vehicles.

To get the best international film nomination, the country of origin must select a single domestic film to put into contention. Drive My Car, as a result, has already been recognized as the best film of the year for all of Japanese cinema. This Oscar category is often filled with wonderful films. I find, on average, that I enjoy more of the best international nominees than best picture nominees. Drive My Car may be significantly better than its, but it is another data point that we should all watch more films where we have to read the dialog.

Drive My Car is an exploration of many complex emotions. It interweaves all of them with multiple characters’ varying perspectives into a beautiful tapestry hung over a magnificent landscape. It is easy to map your own personal experiences onto at least one of the characters, which I find the best films can. The film also continues to show that platonic relationships, especially in Japan, are possible and not everyone has to fall in love with each other. There is social commentary weaved in about class struggles in Japan that are broad enough to apply anywhere around the world. Film, at its best, is a universal language, and Drive My Car gets it right.

The opening credits do not come until after multiple scenes are complete and give you a moment to pause. Do not be intimidated by the run time, feel free to pause where it feels right, step away and return. You can start to process the messaging of the film during your breaks and return primed to reengage with the beautiful story.

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