TOKYO — Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi says he is surprised by the international popularity of his Oscar-winning film “Drive My Car,” but attributes it to the universality of Haruki Murakami’s short story on which it is based.
The film centers on an actor played by Hidetoshi Nishijima who directs a multilingual production of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” Still grieving the sudden loss of his wife, the actor, Kafuku, leads the cast in rehearsals in which they sit and read their lines flat, ingesting the tongue for days before performing them.
The three-hour story about grief, connection and recovery won an Oscar for best international feature last month.
“I was actually surprised at how widely accepted this film was,” Hamaguchi said at a Tokyo news conference on Tuesday, his first major event since the Oscars.
While attributing her popularity to the universality of Murakami’s story, Hamaguchi said the actors “brought her to the screen very convincingly, although I’m sure it was an extremely difficult task for them to embody Haruki Murakami’s worldview”.
For his part, he tried to “show a kind of hope, like Mr. Haruki Murakami does in his novels, so that we can feel that this character is now okay – the process of loss and accepting it to move on to something else – if not a pretty full recovery,” Hamaguchi said.
The “inner reality” of the characters in the story is both the charm and the difficulty of turning Murakami’s story into visuals, Hamaguchi said.
“Describing inner reality…is something that movies aren’t very good at,” Hamaguchi said. So he decided not to trace the written language of the original story. “The more appealing a story is, the harder it is for the visuals to surpass the images already formed in readers’ minds,” he said.
Hamaguchi said he decided to visualize the heart of the story – the relationship between Kafuku and his much younger driver Misaki – who also suffered the loss of his mother in a landslide – which gradually deepened to through their conversations in his beloved red Saab, one of the few colorful elements in the film.
The film combines the inner worlds of Murakami and Chekhov and reflects their similarities, Hamaguchi said.
The conversations between Kafuku and Misaki contrast with those of Vanya and Sonya in “Uncle Vanya”, and when Kafuku acts as Vanya during the performance, he comes to realize his own inner words towards healing.
“So I found ‘Drive My Car’ and ‘Uncle Vanya’ interwoven wonderfully as if translating each other,” Hamaguchi said.
Hamaguchi said he wanted to thank Murakami at the Oscars ceremony, but missed the chance because his “thank you” after giving a long list of actor names was misunderstood at the end of his speech.
“I still wanted to thank Murakami-san and my team,” he said.
Hamaguchi’s films, which include the “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” anthology released last year, are acclaimed, but he was not widely known in Hollywood until a Best Screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival. last year draws attention to “Drive My Car”.
Hamaguchi said international audiences now see Asia as a source of interesting films, and he hopes his fellow filmmakers can create films that can “pierce audiences’ hearts” and meet their expectations.
His goals for his next film? “I just want to be able to say that I made one that’s a bit better than the last one,” Hamaguchi said.
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