Drive My Car (MA) - 179 minutes
Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is a celebrated actor and theatre director, while his wife Oto (Reika Kirishima) is a screenwriter.
The pair appears to have a close and loving relationship.
But in the past, there is tragedy. They lost their four-year-old daughter many years ago. Still, understandably, the pain lingers.
Now Oto creates fabulous stories, seeming out of nowhere, which her husband helps flesh out.
When arrangements for a work trip by Kafuku go awry, he catches out his wife with another man, a young actor and admirer of Kafuku named Koshi Takatsuki (Masaki Okada).
Then one day Oto says she wants to talk to Kafuku and they agree to do so after he gets home from work.
Unfortunately, though, that conversation is never had because tragedy strikes again.
Two years later, Kafuku is engaged by a Hiroshima-based theatre festival to direct the Chekhov play Uncle Vanya.
First up, he must agree to being driven to and from the audition room – quite some distance away – in his prized red Saab 900 Turbo.
Reluctant to accept the proposition, as he enjoys driving himself, he isn’t given a choice.
Thereby, an association begins with his taciturn 23-year-old chauffeur Misaki Watari (Toko Miura).
After the auditions, the diverse cast members start preparing for their respective roles.
Finding it particularly difficult is Koshi Takatsuki (the man who Kafuku discovered with his wife), who Kafuku cast in a role other than the one he wanted.
Among the others chosen is a beautiful young woman who uses sign language to communicate.
Takatsuki continues to struggle and has several meetings with Kafuku, who recognises both his talents and shortcomings.
Revelations about all the players I have mentioned and others are forthcoming – gradually.
A number take place in the company of Watari, who frequently plays a tape of Uncle Vanya that Oto recorded as she is driving Kafuku to and from the rehearsal space.
That recording enables Kafuku to absorb himself in the piece.
A complex and enchanting work by co-writer and director Ryusuke Hamaguchi, the real reward comes in the final act (two hours in).
Drive My Car has been brilliantly written and executed, with significant lashings of Uncle Vanya in between the personal dramas.
It is a slow burn film that you need to stick with to get the most out of.
The performances are spectacular, as we learn more about each of the central players the longer the film progresses.
There is an inherent sadness in Kafuku and Watari, the detail of which comes out in the last third of the production.
The actors portraying those roles are largely poker-faced throughout, but that doesn’t make their revelations (or their pain and guilt) any less shattering.
I loved the characterisations of two of the younger women, Yoo-rim Park (as the actress in Uncle Vanya unable to speak) and Sonia Yuan (as fellow performer Janice Chan).
There is a determination and authenticity in their performances.
Drive My Car is a heartfelt confessional that is all the better for being unlike any film I have seen previously.
It has layers and depth few pictures can emulate.
Particularly suited to film purists, this is a truly spectacular piece of movie making.
Rated MA, it scores a 9 out of 10.