Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is a professional stage actor and director. The film opens with a deep look at Yusuke’s life, showing us his marriage and just how talented and committed he is to acting and performing. His wife also enjoys dabbling in theatre, but on the writing and storytelling side. We also discover that Yusuke owns a classic red Saab 900 turbo, which he drives with pride, preferring to be the car’s only driver.
But significant life changes are about to occur for Yusuke. After making a major and unexpected discovery about his wife, Yusuke is forced to make some challenging life choices. Yusuke is also involved in a motor vehicle accident, leading to new discoveries about his health. But while attempting to stay positive and move forward despite the surprising new challenges, Yusuke loses his beloved wife.
After Yusuke loses his wife, we jump ahead two years in time. Yusuke has accepted a new job directing a stage play titled ‘Uncle Vanja’. For everyone’s health and safety, the Theatre Company Yusuke is working for has non-negotiable conditions he must abide by. One of the non-negotiable rules is that Yusuke must be driven to and from the theatre each day. Misaki (Toko Miura) is Yusuke’s new driver, and he must hand his car keys over to her. She is generally quiet and keeps to herself while driving, allowing Yusuke to continue working on his newest stage play.
Drive My Car is best described as a slow-burning drama film. With a solid runtime of almost three hours, Drive My Car has a lengthy but also in-depth story to tell. With such a decent runtime, the film successfully gives a wonderful insight into Yusuke’s world, and great introductions are given to the many characters that appear throughout. Many of these characters are also dealing with their own past, suffering, or current secrets.
As a plot, Drive My Car is highly unpredictable. With a powerful introduction and setup, it didn’t take long for me to be invested. Yusuke is quite likeable, but he also makes certain choices that will make the audience keen to understand his logic and thought process. Performances are excellent here, and many moments are filled with tension, drama, sensitivity, and heart. The dialogue exchanged between characters is strong, feeling real and, at times, very raw. Nothing about this film feels fake or forced, and the realism will engage audiences.
Visually, Drive My Car is pleasing. The strong visuals capture moments of tension and emotional conversations, each frame capturing something touching. There are many moments where the director has utilised creative shots of characters driving cars and stunning shots of surrounding locations. As for any general complaints, I only had one minor issue. Acts one and two felt flawless with their pacing, and the film flows beautifully from one scene to the next. But a few moments during the third act felt slightly slower, leading to the third act briefly dragging before delivering the final and unforgettable conclusion. This is a minor issue, and naturally, this could vary from viewer to viewer. Regardless of this, the story, performances, pacing, visuals, and level of unpredictability render the film pretty much flawless.
Overall, Drive My Car is a brilliant drama film. With a touching journey that feels real and raw, audiences will be hooked and engaged with this film very easily. Performances here are strong, and characters all around have wonderful stories with solid setups. The film is packed with strong moments that are unpredictable and unforgettable. Apart from the ever so slightly slower third act, this film is practically flawless, and it doesn’t surprise me that it’s been nominated for Best Picture (and more) in the upcoming Oscars. It’s a cinematic experience and journey that I’ll never forget.