‘Drive My Car:’ Another Asian flick gets the Oscars attention

A young woman (played by Toko Miura) becomes the chauffeur of a theater director (Hidetoshi Nishijima) after he loses his wife. Press photo

By Wendell Gaa 

Asian cinema has once again been recognized at this year’s Academy Award nominations for Best Picture. 

Japan’s “Drive My Car” seems assured of at least bagging the Oscar for Best International Feature Film of 2021, and for good reason.  Directed by auteur and Oscar nominee Ryusuke Hamaguchi, this is an excellently crafted introspective film which revolves around the story of theater director/actor Yūsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) as he oversees rehearsals for a multilingual theatrical production of the classic drama “Uncle Vanya” by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, to be performed to the public in Hiroshima.

Gifted with an eye for theatrical talent, Yūsuke and his wife Oto have already experienced tragedy losing their 4-year-old daughter to pneumonia and attempt to find solace in their lives by creating drama screenplays.  But matters are further complicated after Yūsuke secretly realizes Oto is having an affair. This is compounded by the fact that a near fatal car crash and glaucoma in one eye, may lead to vision loss unless he takes daily eye drops. 

Mourning another loss in the family, Yūsuke attempts to act out in the “Uncle Vanya” performance, but his grief overwhelms him, and he is unable to complete the performance.  

A couple of years pass, and Yūsuke is finally able to somehow move on to accept a two-month residency with a theater program in Hiroshima. While there, he is tasked to direct a multi-lingual theater production of “Uncle Vanya,” which involves actors from the Philippines, Taiwan and South Korea who shall all perform speaking in their own native language.  During the audition process he meets an oddly-behaved gentleman who provides Yūsuke a measure of moral and emotional support at a time he desperately needs it the most. 

The Filipino actor who earns a spot in the play cast is portrayed by none other than stage and film actor Perry Dizon, a native of Mindanao who was born in Misamis Oriental, Mindanao and grew up in Davao de Oro.  However small of a supporting role which Dizon has in this film, it was nonetheless fascinating to hear him speak Tagalog in both the rehearsal and performance scenes of the play while the other cast members would speak in their respective languages in Japanese, Mandarin, Korean and even Korean sign language!

The theater company that has employed Yūsuke deems it mandatory that he be accompanied by a driver escort due to his past road accident in relation to his glaucoma.  The person assigned to this job is a young woman named Misaki Watari who proves to be capable on the road. The two form a budding friendship learning from each other’s tragic backgrounds how to cope with their unrelenting sorrowful life circumstances. 

As a film focuses heavily on a driver-passenger relationship, I was honestly initially wary that this movie would follow a similar plotline of two other past Oscar-winning Best Pics “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Green Book,” both films of which have garnered well-deserved criticism for being overly sanitized “racial reconciliation” stories tainted by that infamous “White Savior” trope. 

What makes “Drive My Car” stand out even so much more in a meaningful way is how it so movingly addresses the theme of finding the inner strength and will to move on in the face of irreversible loss. 

VP LENI ROBREDO interview with Boy Abunda CLICK HERE

(C) The FilAm 2022

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