Art

“It’s just a movie about sadness and love,” says the director of Japan’s first Oscar nominee | Oscars 2022

When parasite Won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2020, it was considered a long overdue acknowledgment of South Korean cinema’s championship.

Bong Joon-ho’s dark comedy about two families on opposite ends of the country’s social spectrum became the first non-English language production to win in the Academy Awards’ 94-year history.

After watching his neighbor soak up much of the critical acclaim reserved for East Asian cinema – and TV series – Japan’s moment could come this month with understated drama from a director many in Hollywood have struggled to name until recently.

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, director of Drive My Car. Photo: Ronny Hartmann / AFP / Getty Images

drive my carRyûsuke Hamaguchi’s gripping epic of grief, connection and art is the first Japanese film in Oscar history to be nominated for Best Picture.

His adaptation of the short story of the same name by Haruki Murakami – a perennial but previously unsuccessful nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature – was also nominated for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best International Feature Film.

To put Hamaguchi’s achievement in historical context, the last Japanese filmmaker to be nominated for Best Director was the venerable Akira Kurosawa ran36 years ago.

Hamaguchi’s demanding, lengthy work – whose opening credits arrive a full 40 minutes past the three-hour mark – follows Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), an actor and theater director who finds solace in chauffeur Misaki Watari (Tôko Miura) after his sudden death and wife Oto.

The industry awards calendar bodes well for 43-year-old Hamaguchi, who made his debut as an advertising director four years ago after earning recognition for his Tohoku documentary trilogy – co-starring with Ko Sakai – about the human tragedy unleashed by the triple disaster on Japan’s northeast coast in March 2011.

drive my car won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film in January and Best Screenplay at Cannes last year. Earlier this month it secured a Bafta for best non-English language film.

“The more I think about it, the less sure I am,” Hamaguchi said in a recent interview to explain why his film is now poised to make cinematic history.

drive my car
Reika Kirishima, who plays Oto Kafuku, Yûsuke’s wife, and Hidetoshi Nishijima in Drive My Car. Photo: Janus Films

“But I can say one thing: This is a completely normal film. It’s about people with all these different flaws, all trying to make a better life for themselves. Loving someone or something is one way to do that. But when we love someone, one day we lose or break up with that person.

“It’s almost like an oxymoron. It’s such a normal aspect of this film that it’s about the loss and gain of love.”

Since its publication last year, a consensus has formed on it drive my car as a film for our time. Some of it was filmed during the coronavirus pandemic – it ends with its characters in face masks – and months after the runaway success of Squid Gameit certainly settled the dispute over subtitles.

A scene from Parasite
Park So-dam & Choi Woo-Shik in Parasite. Photo: Curzon Artificial Eye / Allstar

As Phil Hoad wrote to explain why drive my car Slated to win later this month: “The perfect post-pandemic Best Picture winner, this powerful work emerges with a calm realization of introspection and trauma.” It transcends Twitter-false dichotomies about blockbuster-v-arthouse with a total sense of immersion in its own purpose. In times like these, there is an art to keeping the engine running.”

Hamaguchi is reportedly looking forward to meeting Steven Spielberg and Denzel Washington in Los Angeles drive my car will compete for best picture with Jane Campion’s gothic westerns, among others The power of the dog and Kenneth Branagh’s autobiography Belfast.

But they quickly recognized Bong’s role as the standard-bearer for what is proving to be a golden age for East Asian filmmakers and actors. One year later parasite won four Academy Awards in major categories, nomadic countrydirected by Chloe Zhao, the Chinese-born filmmaker, won three Oscars – including Best Director – and South Korean actress Youn Yuh-jung won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Minari.

“I believe that the reason this film has been accepted around the world is because the actors’ performances and voices are believable,” Hamaguchi said shortly afterwards drive my car‘s nomination, adding that Bong’s film broke through the psychological resistance – and petty prejudice – that once acted as a barrier to Asian films.

“We, the next generation of Asian films, are going through this parasite has opened,” he said.

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