This year’s Oscar nominations were announced on February 8th, and for the first time ever a Japanese film is in the running for Best Picture. Drive My Car, directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, is adapted from Haruki Murakami’s short story of the same name from his 2014 collection Men Without Women.
Best Picture is not the only category Drive My Car is up for — it also received nominations for Best Director, Best International Feature Film, and Best Adapted Screenplay. At the same time, the Academy has drawn criticism for the fact that when a foreign film is nominated in major categories like this, typically none of the cast receives nominations in acting categories, as was the case with Parasite in 2020. Hopefully this changes as the Oscars become more willing to celebrate foreign work and talent.
Each of the seven stories in Murakami’s Men Without Women is centered around men who have lost women in their lives. In this adaptation, Hidetoshi Nishijima stars as Yusuke Kafuku, an actor with a soon-to-be-iconic red Saab 900 that he gets driven to and from his theater in by an assigned chauffeur, Masaki Watari (Tōko Miura).
The film’s dialogue retains the spirit of Murakami’s writing in the characters’ poignant observations on life and loss. The close-quarters setting of Kafuku’s Saab intensifies their conversation. Although the original text was just thirty pages long, Hamaguchi and co-writer Takamasa Oe stretched the material to a runtime of nearly three hours.
One of Hamaguchi’s earlier directorial works was a series of documentaries about natural disaster survivors in Japan. For this, he interviewed survivors of tsunamis and earthquakes, and says that he “[thinks] those experiences are all connected and they’re flowing into this work,” informing the ways he depicts grief and loss on screen.
Drive My Car has already been on a bit of a winning streak since premiering internationally at the Cannes Film Festival in July, where it won Best Screenplay. It has also been awarded Best Film by the New York Film Critics Circle, Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes, and more.
At the moment, Drive My Car is only playing in select theaters across the United States with no word of when it might appear on streaming services.