Yusuke (Nishijima) is a theater director married to television writer Oto (Kirishima). The couple have a fulfilling sex life: Oto usually gets inspired creatively just after they make love, telling Yusuke her story in real time, who then records what she says. In turn Oto reads on tape whatever play Yusuke is working on, which he listens to religiously, tooling around in his cherry red, vintage Saab. Then tragedy strikes. Later, Yusuke is hired to direct a production of “Uncle Vanya,” an experience that will change him forever. First, he’s forced to accept Misaki (Miura), a sad-faced female chauffeur who invades and drives his beloved car. He also meets Koshi (Okada), a handsome actor who’s been cast in the play. Yusuke knows he once had a fling with Oto, so he plans some subtle revenge.
Hamaguchi’s “Drive” is the kind of film we see too rarely nowadays: a subtle, deliberate drama that works on many different levels. It’s a fascinating puzzle, a film that demands we engage with it to work out what’s happening and why. Yet there’s not a drop of fat, not a second of pretension, and its three hour run time simply glides by. It’s beautifully shot and composed as well, with particular attention given to that gorgeous Saab, the damaged Yusuke’s only solace and refuge. Actor Nishigima carries the film in the enigmatic central role, but both Miura and Kirishima also score as driver Misake and wife Oto, the two very different women that mark distinct chapters in his life. “Drive” is our pick for the best film of 2021. To experience filmmaking at its very best, get in this “Car” and drive.