Drive My Car 2021: A comparative Reading

My misfortune could perhaps be greater than yours,

but I don’t give into despair.

Until my life comes to a natural end,

I’ll keep enduring it.

Sonya, Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov

The impalpable sentimentality of Chekhov reaches out from far beyond the profundity of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car. Murakami‘s short story by the same name speaks eons of the expected virtues of being. However, a vehicle and the state of operation do not form the essence of its fulfillment but rather function on elemental levels at the core of the story.

Themes and Parallels in Drive My Car

Drive my Car although being a tale of love and loss, is a profound parable on uncertainty, and the pain of acceptance. A middle-aged man Yūsuke Kafuku unwinds space for the first thematic instance. It is being able to drive his car and the voice of his wife Oto echoing through the speakers, that allows him the routine liberty to go over his dialogues at peace.

Yūsuke and Oto Kafuku in Drive my Car 2021
Yūsuke and Oto Kafuku in Drive my Car 2021

Speaking of dialogue, Uncle Vanya forms the second thematic instance as its influences are overarching both in Kafuku’s life as well as in the cinematic process. Kafuku voices the same in the following phrase as he establishes his inability to enact Uncle Vanya himself.

Chekhov is terrifying.

When you say his lines, it drags out the real you.

Yūsuke Kafuku, Drive My Car

Descending parallel to the scope of the play, we are introduced to a host of impactful characters. Contrary to what seems like a romantic development on the forefront, Misaki Watari resembles a backstory similar to that of Kafuku. She drives his car and gradually reveals instances of further impact in the narrative.

Narrative Design

The narrative is, to say the least, bewildering in its approach and yet so simplistic in its unfolding that it leaves the viewer enthralled long after the cinema has ended. One can easily mistake how the story is about Oto Kafuku, about her countless affairs and literary genius. It is, however, not until her death that the opening credits roll signifying a new beginning or an end to a sub-plot, conveniently depending on the viewer.

The course of events is easy to follow, and yet not straightforwardly etched out following the trajectory of a novel. Much like how a reader is expected to read through and experience epiphanies or disasters of one’s one, it besets itself on the visual spectrum. The liberty to make meaning or accept the one that is granted is evident through oblong stretches of silence following the vast Japanese landscape.

Drive my Car- Cinematic landscape
Drive my Car- Cinematic landscape

One cannot help but think of the South Korean sub-terrain as picturized in a Hong San-soo or a Kim Ki-duk film. The visual trajectory of the former lies solely on the distance covered on foot and follows clear curves on partial edges. This is precisely where Drive My ‘Car’ asserts its importance in the careful construction of horizontal landscapes as seen from inside a car or from following the course of one.

Of Grief and Regrets

Chekhov makes his impact felt again. It resonates in Kōji Takatsuki as he longs to find Oto in the long and lingering questions that her texts lay before him. For the first time, there is an instance of sharing grief, as Kafuku and Takatsuki engage in conversation.

We needed each other to get through life.

Yūsuke Kafuku, Drive My Car

It is an often professed fallacy that life should be an endeavor without regrets, yet a Murakami novel almost always demystifies the nature of the same. What if life was a compilation of regrets and the very understanding that things were left unspoken and undone till the very end? Yet the depiction of such is the morality against it.

Misaki and Kafuku share their sorrow
Misaki and Kafuku share their sorrow

Kafuku shall never encounter Oto again and his eternal suffering embodies itself in the following lines-

I want to see Oto.

If I do, I want to yell at her. Berate her.

For lying to me all the time.

I want to apologize. For not listening.

For not being strong.

Yūsuke Kafuku, Drive My Car

Letting Go

Drive My Car is not in essence a story about letting go, but rather making peace with what is. One hardly knows conclusively how different either is from the other. The only ‘letting go’ happening throughout the film is Kafuku being able to let go of his control of the car to Misaki Watari, an act he formerly resisted with an acute dilemma.

On paper, it might not seem like a lot but somewhere down the line, it establishes Misaki as the true protagonist of the story, emerging somewhere from around what has been, and what is.

… and Moving On

As for Kafuku, he truly embodies the spirit of Uncle Vanya with all his toils as well as his aggravations. In essence, the ending of the story lies somewhere in the middle itself. It is in those instances that Kafuku gets to learn something from Lee Yoo-na each time they connect. Lee Yoo-na is to Kafuku what Sonya was to her uncle as Chekhov had it laden; the spirit of persistence amidst the toil and endurance.

Sonya and Uncle Vanya, ending of Drive my Car
Sonya and Uncle Vanya, ending of Drive my Car

The story reaches its informal conclusion as the four sit for dinner. Kafuku asks the speech-impaired Lee Yoo-na if she faces any problems during the rehearsals, to which she politely responds –

Why do you ask me something you don’t ask others?

You don’t have to be nicer to me than you are to other people.

People not understanding my words is normal for me.

Lee Yoo-na, Drive My Car

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