How the Oscar-nominated director of ‘Drive My Car’ made a masterpiece
Soho House talks exclusively to the front runner in the Best Picture category about Murakami, signing, and those opening credits
Wednesday 2 March 2022 By Abigail Hirsch Video edit by Andrea Ball
After a world premiere at 2021 Cannes Film Festival, Drive My Car has already racked up four Academy Award nominations for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best International Feature Film, and Best Achievement in Directing. The Japanese drama tracks Yūsuke Kafuku through the journey of directing Russian play, Uncle Vanya, set in the city of Hiroshima.
Here, co-writer and director, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, hops on Zoom with filmmaker Lulu Wang to discuss adapting Haruki Murakami’s work and the complex multilingual nature of the feature.
Lulu Wang: ‘How did you recreate the tone of Murakami on screen, even though you took many creative licenses?’
Ryûsuke Hamaguchi: ‘It was a difficult process. I have read a lot of Murakami’s works, especially in my twenties, so I had a fundamental understanding of the world view that Haruki Murakami works have.
‘I read the originals over and over until I understood the story at a subconscious level, so that when I wrote, it was an audio and visual expression of the work. It was the same with Uncle Vanya as well. I read the piece over and over. As a result, there was this mysterious sensation for me in the process where I felt like the originals were helping me constantly.’
LW: ‘I’m curious as to how you came up with putting the credits 40 minutes into the film. It gave the sense, even though you’ve been watching the film for quite a while, that you were only in the prologue. Can you talk about that particular decision?
RH: ‘The original story begins after the death of Oto, the wife’s character. What happens before the credits is a prologue for the film’s audience to get to know the characters. After the credits, the characters who appear are different, except for Takatsuki. The relationships that we see are new. A break happens at the credits, where 40 minutes of the film have gone by. This is a way to give the audience a rest to meet the film at the energy level that this is where the story truly begins.’
LW: ‘There is quite a lot of dialogue in the film, but when Sonia is signing, it’s silent. It forces the audience to lean in and slow down even more – you must listen and visually pay attention to the expressiveness of the hand. How did you decide to use this as one of your languages?’
RH: ‘I was invited to a deaf film festival; I went into the festival as a foreigner in a way. I realised the appeal of visual communication, of sign language. While communicating with the people there, I noticed everyone looks straight at each other when they are speaking. I got the feeling that if I were to lie, they could see right through me. This sensation reminded me of how I feel about the camera’s ability to record even the smallest signs of physical discomfort. People who sign have a visual ability, almost like a camera, to capture even a hint of people’s physical languages. Sign Language is an honest form of communication.
‘The idea to have a multi-language element in the film was to express the fact that there are many physical signs in the body when people are communicating.’
This is an edited version of the interview.
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