I don’t usually review Japanese films, but this one seems headed for multiple international awards, so I found a subtitled version and took a look.
A renowned Tokyo stage actor and director (Hidetoshi Nishijima, at once stoic and simmering) whose also famous playwright wife died suddenly two years earlier is invited to Hiroshima to direct a stage play of Chekov’s Uncle Vanya. He drives down in his beloved old fire engine-red Saab but is dismayed to learn that the troupe’s insurance requires that he not drive himself but be assigned a driver while he’s there.
He reluctantly accepts his taciturn young chauffeur (Toko Miura), and during their hour-each-way daily commute, she, who is not without problems of her own, becomes his sounding board for the increasingly emotion-laden production process, and emerges as the agent of his (and her own) catharsis.
Three hours of repressed emotions and little narrative action may seem a slog, but director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s assured skill in gradually revealing the story’s complex plot layers makes the minutes fly by. Every narrative twist seems like a secret. Not a bad performance among a uniformly talented cast. Adapted from a short story by Haruki Murakami.
P.S.: The original Japanese title, the IMDb helpfully tells us, is Doraibu Mai Ka. I think that’s hilarious. (179 min)