Best Picture

Drive My Car
Produced by Teruhisa Yamamoto

Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car is about the forging of a wondrous and unexpected connection between two very different people. But which two people? They could be Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a theater star and director from Tokyo, and Misaki Watari (Toko Miura), a driver who lives in Hiroshima, thrown together by professional circumstance and bound by their personal reckonings with loss. Or they could be Anton Chekhov and Haruki Murakami, two literary titans born nearly a century apart, whose sensibilities are exquisitely married in a picture that’s half Murakami adaptation, half Uncle Vanya meta-revival.

An exquisite hybrid, Drive My Car abounds in such casually intricate juxtapositions. It’s about how art and life can become intimate bedfellows, an idea literalized in the opening sequence, as a husband and wife’s lovemaking sets the stage for a hypnotic feat of storytelling. It’s about how a great director — like Kafuku, and also like Hamaguchi — strikes a balance between technical mastery and collaborative instinct. It’s about how the theater can take us on a journey, creating a space where language barriers fall away and only pure expression remains — and it’s also about how a journey can become a kind of theater, transfiguring a back seat into a stage.

Again and again, Drive My Car transcends its many apparent contradictions. This three-hour epic of the soul glides by like a dream. This feast of great talk is never more eloquent than in a wordless shot of two hands, each holding a cigarette, poised companionably over a sunroof. In these emotionally overwhelming moments — and in the luminous silent performance of Park Yurim as Kafuku’s collaborator Lee Yoon-a — Hamaguchi’s masterwork embodies a paradox that can be true of movies and people alike: It’s the quietest ones that often have the most to say.

Justin Chang