Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, the director behind the superb ‘Drive My Car’ | Culture

Where does the Japanese Ryûsuke Hamaguchi come from? How can it be that in the latest editions of the Berlin and Cannes festivals the best films screened, The wheel of fortune and fantasy Y Drive My Car, were they the work of the same filmmaker? On very few occasions has a creator come up with so many different films —Francis Ford Coppola is in my memory in 1974 with The Godfather II Y The conversation- to the same season. This director of chance and destiny, a lover of the unexpected, coincidence games and strange symmetries, is an affable person and more talkative than usual among Japanese directors. His foreign name is the most heard in awards season.

Few filmmakers have benefited from the pandemic. Between confinements and filming slowed down by anticovid protocols, filming has become a cumbersome experience. However, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (Kanagawa, 43 years old) those breaks have served to become the auteur film director of the season. First, because your The wheel of fortune and fantasy It ended up at the Berlinale 2021, where it won the Grand Jury Prize, after waiting for a slot for its launch during the previous year. And then because Drive My Car —premiere today in Spain—, which was filmed avoiding confinement, was the great cinematographic event of Cannes (Titan, the winner of the Palme d’Or, is something else), although it only won the awards for best screenplay and international critics, and its cover letter in the United States.

It’s clear: the festival circuit adores him. If anything, one question may stand in his way to the Oscars: whether academics will watch a three-hour movie with subtitles. They should, because they are missing out on a gem. Next Tuesday, when the Oscar nominations are announced, Drive My Car It is not only the favorite to lead the finalists for best international film, but it could also catapult Hamaguchi to the category of best director. Now, will she also be among the 10 candidates for the big prize, the best film?

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Image from ‘The Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy’.

Hamaguchi is an old acquaintance in the auteur film scene. He has been climbing positions, since he started, after finishing university, directing advertising. He did it for several years, until he enrolled in a film program at the Tokyo University of the Arts. There he saw some titles that have become the great references of his style, such as husbands, of John Cassavetes, from whom he has taken his method of working with actors; Alphaville, by Jean-Luc Godard; or a documentary about Jean Renoir and his work with the performers, which served as a guide for the filming of Happy Hours.

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Your graduation film, Passion (2008), competed in the New Directors section of the San Sebastian festival, and from then on he has been combining fiction feature films with documentaries. in 2015 happy hour, born from an improvisation workshop with non-professional performers, it participated in the Locarno (Switzerland) competition, and put Hamaguchi on the international map. That story of four women in their thirties told in five hours was concocted with improvisation and a commitment to mysteries and the unexpected in human relationships. These are the essential elements of Hamaguchi’s cinema, which came together in Asako I and II (2018), the strange adventure starring a woman who finds a boy exactly like her boyfriend who disappeared two years earlier. “Chance is the world. We would not exist without him”, he told EL PAÍS during the last San Sebastián festival about his taste for coincidences and the influence they exert on sentimental relationships. on that it turns The wheel of fortune and fantasy (2021), Berlinale Grand Jury Prize, three stories with leading women who, through an unexpected love, a failed seduction and a strange encounter born of a misunderstanding, make up a portrait of the fatum as the engine of life.

Commission: adapt Murakami

The wheel of fortune and fantasy he shot it his way, with a technical team made up of eight people, including himself. something else has been Drive My Car, his take on the world of writer Haruki Murakami, a big-budget commission. “Actually, Murakami’s novels can’t be adapted into movies. It is impossible. As you consider a literal adaptation, you fail. The proposal came from the producer, and he told me about another novel. I felt incapable, and instead I pointed out that in Drive My Car he did see material that he felt close to, and that he knew how to capture his spirit in a film”, he told EL PAÍS. The story, of no more than 40 pages, is in the compilation book Men and womenfrom which Hamaguchi has taken more material, because in different ways two other stories also appear, Scheherazade Y Kino. “I like how Wim Wenders and Aki Kaurismäki roll inside cars, I’m attracted to how they reflect the life that goes on beyond the vehicle windows,” he assured during the promotion in London.

The protagonist, a theater director, owns a Saab (in the novel it is yellow; the filmmaker preferred it to be red so that it would stand out on screen) with which he moves everywhere, becoming a virtual rehearsal office. One day he discovers his wife having sex with a young actor in his apartment, and decides to keep it a secret. The plot twists and turns and ends up taking the playwright to the other side of Japan, to direct an adaptation of Uncle Vanya, of Chekhov, with actors of different nationalities who will each use their mother tongue for the performance, since the director of the play builds a very special bond with the driver who transports him: “I am the same filmmaker, and although they are very different formally , in both you can see my effort to create an art form. I also believe that cinema, as an art, has always been a minority [en Japón, Hamaguchi ha organizado un fondo económico de ayuda a salas de cine de autor]. I am not afraid of its future, because it will not disappear, although, make no mistake, it will not grow.

Hidetoshi Nishijima, standing, and Tôko Miura, behind the wheel, in 'Drive My Car', by Ryusuke Hamaguchi.
Hidetoshi Nishijima, standing, and Tôko Miura, behind the wheel, in ‘Drive My Car’, by Ryusuke Hamaguchi.

The pulse of Drive My Car to speak of the traces that the dead leave on the living, in the echoes that resonate housed in the soul of the survivors, born from Hamaguchi’s reflections on truth and lies, accentuated by the theater, the Greek masks that hide the faces of the actors. “Acting reveals the truth; if you lie, you hide behind a mask ”, he pointed out at the New York festival. “Now then, you can also tell the truth under a mask, and that’s the art, isn’t it? What you show on the surface and what you express below may not coincide. In the end, as a filmmaker, what I want is truth in my actors. It’s almost a matter of faith.”

Because of the award-winning race to the Oscars, in which Drive My Car Having already won the Golden Globe from the vilified Hollywood Foreign Press Association and several congratulations from different critics’ organizations, Hamaguchi has slowed down pre-production on his next film, Our Apprenticeship. The Japanese do not care much about the awards, although the South Korean Bong Joon-ho said the same thing the year of parasites, until he saw himself with the statuette in his hand and could not help but show his face of surprise and happiness. Hamaguchi’s gesture will have to be seen on March 27 if he wins an Oscar.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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