The good stuff
A fine and delicate mix of intricate drama and outspoken narratives. The actors do a great job, but it's Hamaguchi who finds the perfect balance between narrative intrigue and emotional drama. Smart direction, beautifully executed and powerful when it needs to be. Not for everyone, but the film won me over in no time.
Before taking a stab at Hamaguchi's latest success, I figured it would be fun to catch up with this little anthology project. What you get are three unrelated short stories that are very minute in scope and driven by strong performances. This isn't usually my preferred type of cinema, but the contrast between the blunt honesty of the characters and their excessively prim, solemn composure is pretty riveting. The shorts are very similar in style and structure and Hamaguchi fails his chance to experiment with form, but when the quality is consistently high, that's hardly a negative.
Good film, but it begs the question of how many Japanese dramas people have seen. It sticks to conventions pretty neatly and apart from weaving in a play (which wasn't very subtle), it's a very solid but textbook example of what Japanese dramas deliver and how they go about delivering it.
Kafuku is happily married to his wife. They have a good marriage, and they love to rehearse lines while driving. When Kafuku's trip is suddenly canceled, he returns home to find his wife in bed with another man. He leaves without them noticing. Before he can confront her though, she dies from a brain hemorrhage.
The lengthy conversations in pleasing settings, the slow pacing, the dramatic punch in the gut at the end, they're all staples of the genre. Hamaguchi handles them well, it's only the play that feels a bit too on nose and takes up too much time. Drive My Car is a perfectly fine film, but not worth the hype.
There's a lot of good things here, at its best it's a drama that reminded me of Tokyo.sora. But the running time is simply indefensible and there's simply too much dialogue for a Japanese film. The acting is great though and the characters are interesting, but give Hamaguchi some scissors.