It has been sometime since I saw Drive My Car and I have been trying to get over it as much as I have longed to sink into its white snows and blank eyes. I wish to recall the emotions I had felt seeing it and yet cannot because it doesn’t seem to have left my recesses at the first place – much like that lamprey the wife talks about in a bewitched, languorous way that is stuck to its part of the world to survive, sucking onto whatever comes its way and refusing to retreat.
But I shall begin, because that is, indeed, one of the tenets of the story – to begin despite every hurricane, to start anew despite every nightmare.
The film popped on my radar when the buzz around it started dropping on my feeds on multiple platforms about 4-5 months back. But it quickly climbed the charts because it was based on ‘Drive My Car’, a short story penned by one of my favorite novelists, the Japanese master, Haruki Murakami.
I was curious beyond my wits to discover how Ryusuke Hamaguchi, the director, has told this story of intimate loss and palpable loneliness, sifting through the thin lens of hope that glimmers like that rusted lamppost which does its job, notwithstanding the wear and tear.
And then, I watched it couple of days back.
As expected, the central premise of the movie mirrors the book’s – a widowed actor (Yūsuke Kafuku), who has played a part in the theatrical adaptation of “Uncle Vanya” by Anton Chekhov, hires the services of a young woman (Misaki Watari), in her twenties, to drive his car as per the rules of the production house that has currently engaged him to direct ‘Uncle Vanya’ for stage. The duo strike an unexpected bond, understanding each other’s silences as much as their words.
You see, the book, in itself, was complete; it left things unsaid towards the end but I saw it as a reflection of life – nothing ever ends. We, simply, have pauses – short, long, unending – and eventually, have the episode manifest into something else altogether. We call the new truth a memory, an anecdote, the past and what not.
So, I expected no loose ends, no climax stripped of a closure. But what I didn’t expect was a sea of luminous symbolism, delivered in quiet but clear whispers.
Yūsuke, all through the movie, struggles to come to terms with, first, his four-year old daughter’s death, then, his wife’s (Oto’s) many sexual partners and lastly (and most devastatingly), the sudden death of his wife with a brain haemorrhage. He drives his Saab and runs old cassettes of her recorded readings of ‘Uncle Vanya’ and doesn’t let go of them even after two years of her departure. Time, which usually holds the baton of healing, seems to have gone on sabbatical, leaving him in a warp. For Yūsuke, however, the healing comes in the relinquishing – relinquishing the two dear things that connected him to Oto, to two people who, perhaps, had experienced the grief of loss as intimately as him.
In the penultimate scene, Lee (a theatre actor who is dumb and (superbly) plays Sonya in the ‘Uncle Vanya’ play) delivers a heart-tugging monologue, laying threadbare the necessity to embrace wounds and gratitude to come alive in their intensity, and setting Yūsuke’s heart, at last, at ease. He gives up the cassettes, along with his Saab, to Misaki, who, in the final scene, drives it away with a sprightly dog, on the long road, lit under the sun.
Misaki, in this climactic scene, has a visage that has just begun healing, plainly resplendent, without clouding wrinkles and her open hair, perhaps, in a statement of light flair and a spring in the feet. She has, at last, made a confession that had served grave time in her heart and had conjured up the courage to drive a stranger all the way to her village where a barren land of gutted stumps served as a seething reminder of her loss, both of women unwanted and longed for. For Misaki, then, the healing comes in the embracing.
The symbolisms, however, that unfolded on the screen were not just an empathetic and sensitive portrayal of the central story but also turned a luminous melange of Murakami’s other stories. The peppering of Scheherazade and Kino, two shot-like potent pennings from the sumptuous, staple and experimental stable of Murakami-san, were woven with such subtly perfect draw of arc that I could not unsee it and yet didn’t see it.
Hamaguchi’s craft and his eye for minimalist grandeur makes their presence felt throughout the movie so much so that every emotion being experienced by the actors gets heightened and reaches my heart, in a kind of knock that compels me to open the door and grieve with them.
Hiroshima, where Yūsuke and Misaki meet and spend their time together, is open and welcoming, like a new person that doesn’t judge you as much as it is interested in you. Uncle Vanya, of course, stands on its own, a splendorous metaphor that holds at his heart two people spanning two generations who come to understand loss, just a tad better, when together. Hidetoshi Nishijima and Tôko Miura are pitch perfect in the lead roles. The bond they internalize fills the screen with an ache and a silent power that resembles their belief in it. Stunning.
The lingering effect of the movie, at long last, was felt like that scar on Misaki’s face that had lightened by the time she sat in the Saab in the last frame and drove away – it was there but had begun to resemble more the sun than the dark.