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This Week for “Close-Up with Camenker,” Zach Reviews… DRIVE MY CAR! (January 28, 2022)

Click here for the blurb and showtimes for DRIVE MY CAR


Drive My Car PosterWhile a long film has always been an audacious undertaking, anything long that is meant to be screened in-person at a theatre is a particularly audacious feat in 2022! For a reason that I cannot quite pinpoint, many of the films of the 2021-22 season have been a bit on the longer side. But Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s drama DRIVE MY CAR takes the cake for the longest film I’ve seen in theatres in a while as it clocks in at nearly three hours. 

While a three-hour film in 2022 may seem unbearable, the piece does not feel as weighted as one may think, in large part due to its style. This is a film that you really need to pay attention to throughout and one that, in a way, eludes its audience through its unique plot.

The story centers around a couple who both share a passion for the arts: he for stage performance, she for screenwriting. Any synopses that you read on the internet give away much of what happens in the first half hour. While it may seem I am spoiling the film, what I’m about to divulge next was revealed in all the blurbs I read, including the one Red River put out. 

After some hidden secrets come out and Yusuke and Oto’s relationship appears to be a bit on the rocks, Oto is found dead by Yusuke of a sudden brain hemorrhage. Leaving the already challenged Yusuke all the more grief-stricken in the wake of his wife’s death and past baggage that he has not let go of, the film flashes forward two years at which point he is pouring his heart and soul into his theatrical work as a means of healing from Oto’s death.

A subtle but fascinating point on the part of the director was his decision to let the opening credits, a scarce commodity in the 2020s, roll after the half-hour mark. I have rarely seen this done and certainly never as far into a film as DRIVE MY CAR. But it almost indicates that the first segment is supplementary; a backstory that does not entirely connect to the film itself but instead provides the much-needed context to understand Yusuke’s depth as a character. While it adds to the longevity of the piece, I applaud Hamaguchi for doing this as many directors of this style may have just left its audience to assume a lot about the past.

Following a small detour into Yusuke’s art and addressing some of his trauma, the film’s second act (just after the hour mark until right around the two hour mark) lags significantly at times. The director relies so much on Yusuke’s work and how it contributes to him personally, but at the expense of the audience. Instead of providing a deeper character dive, there are long passages of others performing excerpts from plays. While there is an ultimate connection, it is the one area in which I feel there could have been some editing. It is, however, where we further meet Yusuke’s driver Misaki and his fellow performer Koji, both who blossom as characters and deliver some of the film’s finest work in their deep character dives. Their interaction with the complicated Yusuke is equally fascinating to the plot.

Drive My Car still
Overall, the first two hours have their ups and downs, but it is clear throughout that the film’s director knows what he’s doing in the form of his direction and the written word (he co-adapted the screenplay from a short story). It is the final hour/act, however, that is the film’s finest, a rare feat in such a long piece. Here, Hamaguchi triumphs in his exploration of the character’s emotions; their strengths and flaws are both deeply examined.

You may expect a somewhat bitter taste in your mouth based on the premise and some of the buzzwords that I am using here. However, what you walk away with is a host of provocative feelings. It’s a piece that lets you think a bit more about life’s meanings and the intricacies of healing from tragedy, many of which go acknowledged and some which go unacknowledged. A realistic outlook if you ask me.

And while the film is long, it’s three hours that you may find yourself surprised to have lost as it is neither fast nor slow, but well-paced and well-executed. If you didn’t catch its final showing at Red River at Vax and Snacks on Thursday, definitely try to catch it wherever you can, ideally on a big screen! Seeing it at Red River filled my soul and I applaud them for continuing to show the best in independent cinema. How lucky we are in NH to have them!


Stay tuned for Volume XVII of “Close-Up with Camenker,” which will return on Friday, February 11. Title TBD, but thoughts on the Oscar nominations (coming 2/8) will certainly be featured!


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