Upon first glance, Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and Oto (Reika Kirishima) are living the artist couple’s dream. He is a stage actor whose particular style of experimenting with different languages has earned him industry-wide acclaim. She is a successful screenwriter for a TV station. They continue to inspire each other’s work. To help her husband rehearse for his plays, Oto speaks the other character’s lines onto an audio cassette. Driving his car, he listens to the tape and responds with his part of the dialogue. Two years after his wife’s sudden death, this ritual is threatened when Kafuku learns that the theatre who hired him to direct an international production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya has a policy of assigned drivers.

Based on the short story by Haruki Murakami, Drive my Car is a multi-layered relationship drama, even in spite of the fact that only one half of the central couple remains with us for the entire film.

The meticulous use of the spoken word is fundamental to this adaptation. Besides Japanese, the feature has characters communicating in Mandarin, Korean, English, or non-verbally. In post-coital bliss, Oto spins a story about a young girl who breaks into her crush’s house. Despite the fact that this latest idea for one of her scripts never plays out before us visually, it is the most compelling part of the narrative. We are fed pieces of it in instalments and remain hungry for its conclusion – evoking just the faintest memory of the tale of Scheherazade. As counterpoise, director Ryusuke Hamaguchi also allows for silence to permeate, whether it’s an awkward lull in conversation or a powerful stage monologue delivered in Korean sign language.

Drive my car is not afraid to take it’s time to let the events unfold. With a running time of 180 minutes, the film takes us on an emotional journey, as we witness not only the different stages of play rehearsals, but also of Kafuku’s grief.

★★★★★

Selina Sondermann

Drive My Car does not have a UK release date set.

For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.

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