Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Japan, 1978)
Happi Awa/ Happy Hour (2015)
Asako I & II (2018)
Wife of a Spy (2020)
Guzen to Sozo/ Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2021) is a collection of three stories.
Doraibu Mai Ka/ Drive My Car (2021) is only loosely based
on Haruki Murakami's short story (2014), which has a very different plot.
The film is only marginally interested in the relationship between life
and theater and a lot more on the complexity of the human psyche.
The three-hour film is a methodical build-up of psychological pressure,
but it seems to lack an adequate ending.
A naked woman is telling the story of a
teenage girl who is obsessed with her first love and fellow schoolmate, Yamaga. This girl finds where the family hides the house's key and sneaks inside the boy's room when nobody is around. Then she leaves clues around for the boy to realize that she was there.
We see that the woman, Oto, just had sex with her husband, Yusuke.
Later as they are driving he continues the story for her: the teenage girl
is trying to wrestle the boy from his mother's control.
Yusuke drives Oto to a meeting and then drives to his theater where he
is staging Beckett's "Waiting for Godot". Oto
introduces Yusuke to a young promising actor who helps her enact her stories, Koshi.
Yusuke leaves for a business trip, but at the airport learns that his flight has been canceled and his meeting postponed.
He drives back home and finds Oto having sex with Koshi.
Yusuke leaves the house silently, lights up a cigarette and wait patiently.
Oto calls him on the computer and he pretends to be in Vladivostok.
Oto has given Yusuke a tape of Chekhov's play "Uncle Vanya" which Yusuke
plays all the time in the car memorizing Vanya's lines.
One week later, while driving around, Yusuke gets into an accident.
At the hospital he is diagnosed with glaucoma: the disease is
incurable and one can only slow down its progression.
We then see Oto and Yusuke at a
temple praying in front of the photo of a dead little girl.
On the way back home, Oto asks Yusuke if he still wants kids.
She behaves like a loving, devoted wife.
During sex she continues her script: the girl used to be a lamprey in a previous life and karmic fate is causing her to be haunted by that boy;
she masturbates in the boy's bed and someone enters the house. Here she
cannot finish the story.
Yusuke drives to work by himself for the first time since the accident.
Oto tells him that they have something to discuss in the evening.
In the car Yusuke recites "Uncle Vanya". He is moved by the ending dialogue
of Sonya talking to Vanya.
Yusuke returns home late and finds Oto dead from a brain hemorrhage.
At the funeral he sees Koshi again.
Yusuke plays Vanya in theater but
leaves the stage
after reciting the line "woman's fidelity is a lie".
Two years later, Yusuke
drives to Hiroshima and sleeps in a parking lot
(the opening credits of the film roll only now, 40 minutes into the film, as if the film started here).
The director of a theater introduces him to a Korean
literary advisor, Yoon-su.
We learn that Yusuke has won a
two-month residency, which includes six weeks of rehearsals, to produce
He has chosen to live in a quiet island one hour away. They assign him
a driver, a young girl, Misaki Watari.
He is reluctant to let her drive his old car but has no choice.
During the drive he listens to the tape of "Uncle Vanya".
The auditions begin. Many actors applied from overseas.
Koshi and a Taiwanese girl named Janice audition together despite speaking different languages.
Yusuke interrupts them when they get to a kissing scene.
The last actress to audition is a mute who communicates in Korean sign language, translated by Yoon-su.
Few people audition for the part of Vanya that Yasuke could play himself.
Surprisingly, Yusuke picks Koshi, despite his young age, to play Vanya (in the play Vanya is a 47-year-old man).
Koshi himself is surprised and reluctant.
The mute is chosen too for a part, the part of Sonya (an important part because Sonya delivers the final monologue). The Taiwanese actress Janice is chosen for the part of Yelena. Other actors speak Korean or English, so it is a truly multilingual experience.
Koshi invites Yusuke for a drink and says
that he really enjoyed enacting Oto's scripts. He
confesses that he ruined his acting career because of love affairs.
Koshi wants Yusuke to talk about Oto.
Yusuke accuses Koshi of having been in love with Oto but Koshi denies it.
They are interrupted when someone takes a picture of them and Koshi gets angry, showing his violent temper.
Koshi mentions that he feels Oto brought them together in that city to perform that play.
Yusuke's method is to start with the actors reading their parts.
The Taiwanese actress, Janice, is unhappy with Yusuke's method.
When he invites Yusuke and his chaffeur to dinner,
the Korean advisor reveals that the mute actress playing Sonya is actually his wife.
The chaffeur, Misaki, who has become familiar with the play because Yusuke wants her to play the tape all the time, is impressed to learn that Sonya is played by a mute.
Yusuke praises Misaki's driving in front of the Koreans.
The following day Yusuke sees Koshi and the Taiwanese girl stuck on the road.
Yusuke is aware that Koshi doesn't speak Chinese nor English and that Janice doesn't speak Japanese, so the two cannot possibly have conversations.
They show up late at the rehearsal.
That night Yusuke asks his chaffeur Misaki to spend the evening with him and she gives him a tour of Hiroshima along the axis of peace leading from the atomic bomb memorial to the sea.
She tells him how her mother died in a mudslide five years earlier, leaving her alone when she was only 18, and how she drove away until the car broke down in Hiroshima.
So far, Yusuke has had the actors mostly read the play, not act it. Finally he takes them to a public garden and lets them act their parts, again each one speaking her or his own language. First is a scene between
Yelena (played by Janice in Mandarin) and Sonya (played by the mute in sign language).
Koshi invites Yusuke again for a drink. He feels uncomfortable playing an
old man. He confesses that he originally accepted only because he was desperate.
Yusuke encourages him to stick to the part. Again,
someone takes pictures of Koshi. At the exit Koshi chases him and we don't see what happens between them.
Misaki drives both men home. Yusuke tells Koshi that he and Oto had a daughter who died at the age of four of pneumonia and she would now be 23 (incidentally, Misaki's age).
The tragedy deeply affected Oto, who
quit acting and started writing stories, or, better, telling them,
and always during sex.
Yusuke also tells Koshi that he knew of her many love affairs, usually with
actors playing her stories. Yusuke accepted it as part of her job, and never told Oto that he knew.
(Yusuke doesn't explicitly tell Koshi that he saw them having sex at home).
Koshi knows the ending of Oto's unfinished story: when the girl is masturbating, someone enters the house, but it's neither Yamaga nor his parents, it's a burglar who finds her naked in bed and tries to rape her but she kills him and leaves the corpse in Yamaga's room.
The following day Yamaga looks normal in school.
She returns to Yamaga's house and sees a security camera on the front door and the key is no longer where it used to be.
While driving, Misaki has been listening to the whole conversation.
At last, there are rehearsals on a theatrical stage, but just then the cops
show up and arrest Koshi. It turns out he beat up the photographer and
the man died.
Koshi calmly confesses and leaves with the cops after bending respectfully in front of Yusuke.
Yusuke has no choice but to play Vanya himself.
Yusuke asks Misaki to drive him to her hometown, which is a long drive
through the night.
Yusuke confesses that he got home late the night his wife died because he was afraid of what his wife wanted to discuss.
Misaki, in turn, confesses that she could have saved her mother but didn't
because she hated her.
She still bears a scar on her face from that accident.
Yusuke feels that he could have saved Oto if he had come home earlier, so
he tells Misaki that he killed his wife and she killed her mother.
They take a ferry to Misaki's island while television news is talking about
Koshi, his murder and the fact that his career had been hurt by a
relationship he had with an underage girl.
After the ferry, they still have to drive through a snowy landscape to
reach the ruined home in which Misaki's mother died.
While throwing flowers at the ruins, Misaki tells Yusuke that her mother had a second personality, Sachi, an eight-year-old who appeared
after her mother abused Misaki, and Sachi was Misaki's only friend.
Yusuke's wife Oto too had two personalities: the loving wife and the cheater.
Yusuke sobbing admits that he misses Oto and can't forgive himself for not having fully accepted her double personality.
Yusuke hugs Misaki like a father.
We now see the premiere of the play, with Yusuke playing Vanya.
The last scene of the play is Sonya's uplifting monologue, standing behind the desperate Vanya, and it is delivered in sign language by the mute actress.
We see a close-up of Misaki sitting among the audience.
The play ends.
The film fast-forwards ahead and shows Misaki in the time of covid, when everybody is wearing facemasks, shopping in a Korean supermarket.
She walks to the parking lot and opens Yusuke's car. There's a dog inside.
No sign of Yusuke. She removes her facemask and we see that the scar has disappeared.