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Hamaguchi's 'Drive My Car' was the best movie of 2021

Drive My Car.jpeg
Sideshow
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Janus Films
Hidetoshi Nishijima and Toko Miura in “Drive My Car,” directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Drive My Car was the best movie of 2021.

Now, Roger Ebert used to tell a story about how a married couple asked him whether a particular movie was any good, and he told them he thought it was the best movie of the year, at which point they declared, “oh, that doesn’t sound like something we’d like.” And if that’s you, first of all what’s wrong with you, but secondly, I urge you to reconsider. Yes, it’s a three-hour Japanese drama. But this is a rich, compassionate work that finds an impossible magic in being patient and calm, but never slow or dragging, and reveals deep wells of human character and emotion in a seemingly effortless way.

It's based on a short story by the great Haruki Murakami, about a theater actor and director who takes a residency directing a multilingual production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya—some of the actors speak in Japanese, some in Korean, some in Mandarin, and even one in sign language. He practices memorizing lines when he’s driving, which becomes a little complicated when the theater company forces him to use a hired driver, a young woman.

This doesn’t go where you’re expecting, but only because what you’re expecting has been drilled into us by a century of Hollywood—it does go someplace entirely natural, and you feel that it makes all the sense in the world. Director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi doesn’t complicate his direction, you’ll find nothing overly “artsy” here, the story just flows as smoothly as a drive down an open highway.

And still, despite its apparent ease, Drive My Car touches on so many pieces of our lives that it seems impossible you won’t see yourself somewhere in it. I will not tell you what to take from it, except to say this—the movie reminds us that life is hard, for all of us, and one of its great tragedies is that while we often have little trouble extending forgiveness to others, we find it so very difficult be that kind to ourselves.

Drive My Car is available for streaming rental and on HBO Max.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.