Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi has made an impression on the Hollywood inner film circle. Hamaguchi’s feature, Drive My Car, has garnered nods for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best International Feature Film. It would be wrong to say that this is the first time a Japanese feature has made an impression with critics (Rashomon bagged what was then known as an honorary Oscar), but this is the largest amount of nominations a Japanese feature has accrued in the Academy’s history.
The feature is an adaptation of a beloved Haruki Murakami short story and focuses on a recently widowed man (played by Hidetoshi Nishijima) as he undergoes a journey of contemplation and acceptance. A scriptwriter, he comes to realise the importance of his personal narrative, amidst the incredible scenery around him.
The director was aware of the challenge in question. “First of all, turning literature into cinema is always a forced process—you’re always going to wrestle with some kind of impossibility there,” he revealed. “Adding visuals to the words you’ve read, that’s not a movie adaptation for me. In order for it to work, you first have to find the core emotion that you felt [in the text], and then expand it into a film”.
The film also features Masaki Osada, probably best known to British audiences for I Give My First Love to You. Drive My Car comes two years after the release of Parasite, a South Korean feature that won Best Picture in 2020. During his acceptance speech, director Bong Joon-ho advised audiences to embrace the form of foreign language film, feeling that it would expand their viewing experience.
Interestingly, the director of Parasite included Drive My Car in his “Best of 2021” list. The director’s list can be read in FILO, a Korean language magazine. He also included Don’t Look Up, a polemical comedy directed by Will Ferrell stalwart, Adam McKay.
If Drive My Car wins Best Picture, it will be one of a mere handful to win the award in a language that isn’t in English. In 2016, the Academy was criticised for its lack of diversity, leading April Reign to create the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.