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Drive my car and Murakami

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Attention: this post reveals some passages of the film Drive my car by Ryūsuke Hamaguchi. If you want to watch it without knowing absolutely anything, please review after watching it, thank you.

A film that lasts only a minute less than 3 hours is certainly very demanding towards the public, moreover the not-so-lively rhythm of Drive my car by director Ryūsuke Hamaguchi provides that the viewer is willing to let go without expecting spectacular action. It is a film that, rather than drag, invites you to get on board and shows the viewer a panorama that changes in front of you, as if you were on a train or in an old but reliable car. The screenplay is drawn from two short stories by Haruki Murakami, and the presence of this author is perceived in many details of the film: the sophisticated taste of some characters, the discs in the protagonist’s home, the obsession with certain objects such as the car of the title, a certain literary atmosphere. The director, however, sews the two stories (it is Drive my car and Sheherazade, both contained in the collection Men without women) and adds Uncle Vanya of Chekhov as a narrative complement: a story within the story that invades the life of the characters and the guide. Although Drive my car has won the Golden Globe for best foreign film and is competing for the next Oscars, it will be difficult for it to enter the market after having exalted the film critics because in addition to having a stretched pace, the continuous literary and theatrical references they make it a bit aesthetic and decidedly elitist.
The protagonist is a lonely and uncommunicative man who has experienced the trauma of a bereavement and is unable to digest it in order to settle the score with himself. The film tells, at its peak, the journey undertaken to overcome the pain of loss; and to do so he uses a very Japanese theme: a metaphorical visit to the world of the dead. Embarking to cross the water and land in the afterlife is certainly not an exclusive theme of Japan, but the mythology of this archipelago predicts that the strait that separates the Tōhoku from the island of Hokkaido to the north represents the passage to the afterlife, the last journey that souls must undertake. In front of it there is also the sacred mount Osorezan, where the festival of the dead takes place every year and the shamans called itako allow you to meet your dead by going into a trance and lending to the dead their ears, their voice. Not sight, because most of the time they are blind. Even if there are no shamans in Drive my car, in the most important scene the protagonist and the girl who accompanies him become the itako of the other and seem to say to each other “don’t worry, I’m fine, you can continue your life without regrets”. This episode does not exist in Murakami’s rather concise tales used for the script and gives the film the most engaging junction.

Today I came for the first time to a place I read about months ago, and right now I’m writing sitting on a sofa in the Murakami Haruki library. They are brand new rooms, opened in October 2021 in one of the Waseda University buildings, and being designed by the writer, they contain a series of elements typical of his aesthetic. In the lounge there is a nice hi-fi system connected to a turntable that the reception girl manages by changing the vinyls, invariably of 1960s jazz or classical music composed between the 1800s and 1900s. The various rooms wind through armchairs where you can make yourself comfortable reading the books contained in the elegant wooden shelves. You can browse Murakami’s complete work, including translations into foreign languages, mixed with a selection of authors loved by ours. I leafed through his book on jazz musicians in English translation and a volume of short stories by Raymond Carver. Upstairs there is a space to set up exhibitions and a radio studio, downstairs there is a small café where the half-tailed piano that cheered the customers of the place where the writer worked as a young man is on display. I note that there are also, preserved in plexiglas cases, some discs with a stamp on the cover: a cartouche explains that they are the original ones played in the aforementioned jazz cafe. The library is beautiful, modern, but after a while I get the feeling of being in a kind of house-museum, a Mozarthaus dedicated to a living contemporary author, who has also contributed to setting it up. Visits are limited to 90 minutes per shift, which is exactly the right amount of time to go see someone and leave without the host and host starting to think a certain time has come.