Review: ‘Drive My Car’ receives well earned Oscar recognition

We process tragedy in every part of our daily routines.

From how we awaken, following our morning rituals, to how we work, parent, support and nurture those we love, any tragedy we face influences every connection we make. And we use each part of our routines to work through the pain.

Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Oscar-winning “Drive My Car” takes us on a journey across Japan to examine the loss a man experiences when his wife suddenly dies. As this creative soul tries to understand the reasons behind this horrific event, he begins to explore the life that abruptly ended. And he uses every part of his day to search to understand what was behind the death as well as what demons may have been hiding beneath the surface.

While the story may be somber, Hamaguchi makes sure the journey we take with this man is entertaining and enlightening. Yusuke, the lead character, is a man of the theater, an actor, a director, a creative muse, who uses his passion for art to articulate his love for living. He radiates joy when he feels confident in the support from the wind; he lets his grief take over when he isolates himself in his own anger and fear. As this man works through the details for a new production of a play, he discovers – through the daily routines he travels – the full impact of the tragedy he experienced.

Film Summary: Drive My Car

Content: High. Ryusuke Hamaguchi's Oscar-winning film takes a deep look at how people process grief.

Entertainment: High. As serious as the film's content, director Hamaguchi makes the content easy to absorb and the characters interesting to explore.

Message: High. As the film takes its time to reach its destination, we're engaged in a fascinating journey into one man's soul.

Relevance: High. Any opportunity to examine what it takes to discover and reveal truth makes a visit to the movies worthwhile.

Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film with other adults, talk about what truth can mean to our efforts to authentically welcome others into our lives. This is not a family film.

Rather than detail this journey through elaborate dialogue, Hamaguchi brings the loss to life in the various steps Yusuke takes to complete the day. How he begins his morning. Encounters others. Works with his cast. Questions his collaborators. Dines with friends. And — most importantly — how he talks with the young driver assigned to transport him to the theater. Their conversations — sometimes simple, often brief, always insightful — give Yusuke a chance to wander through his feelings as if traveling the countryside with an objective guide.

With a run time of nearly three hours, “Drive My Car” takes its time to reach the destination. But the deliberate pace feels just right thanks to Hamaguchi’s visual approach. Rather than burden the film with endless emoting, and rely on dialogue to express every nuance, the director underplays the content that could easily have been exaggerated by less sensitive hands. He carefully uses every routine interaction the characters experience — from chatting after rehearsal, to stopping by for dinner, to sitting at a stop light — to prompt a revelation to help these people put together the puzzles that define their lives. The sparse dialogue makes it easy to absorb the film’s content via its English subtitles because the story is told through the actors’ faces. And it’s breathtaking.

While this year’s Oscars may be remembered for its unfortunate moments, there’s no controversy around this film’s selection as the Best International Feature. Some films work because of everything they include; this one is special because of what it avoids. 

“Drive My Car” runs 2 hours and 59 minutes and does not carry an MPAA rating. The film is available on HBO Max.