A masterful, meditative achievement, this Japanese drama uses every bit of its three-hour running time to find subtle nuances and to sharply define characters by use of the empty spaces around them. Directed and co-written by Ryusuke Hamaguchi and based on a short story by Haruki Murakami (whose work also inspired Burning), Drive My Car frequently relies on things unspoken. For example, Kafuku decides not to say anything about his wife's infidelity, and she mentions, on the morning of her death, that she'd like to talk to him about something; the subject is never revealed. The tapes that Kafuku listens to in his car, a recording of Uncle Vanya read by Oto, with only Vanya's speaking parts left blank, are likewise rooted in silent spaces. And when Kafuku asks Misaki to show him her favorite part of Hiroshima, she begins by taking him to a garbage refinery, where the falling trash reminds her of snow.
But spoken stories also resonate, with the caveat that the words themselves are unimportant so long as the emotions behind them are true (juxtaposing the idea of meticulously learning lines for a play). The movie begins with a strange, sad, beautiful story, created by Oto during sex with her husband, that comes into play again later and changes. When, finally, characters do begin to reveal the truths of themselves, it feels like a great tumbling out, but even that is beautifully modulated by Hamaguchi. He never loses touch with the movie's tone or themes, even for a second. His visual schemes, especially the strange lines of the rehearsal room, mesh perfectly as well. Drive My Car is a movie that contains multitudes and is worth sitting through more than once -- and worth pondering for longer still.