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New York Film Festival : An Exclusive Interview with Director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi on the Cannes Winning film, “Drive My Car”

Synopsis : Yusuke Kafuku, a stage actor and director is happily married to Oto, a screenwriter. However, Oto suddenly dies after leaving behind a secret. Two years later, Kafuku, still unable to fully cope with the loss of his wife, receives an offer to direct a play at a theater festival and drives to Hiroshima with his car. There, he meets Misaki, a reticent woman assigned to become his chauffeur. As they spend time together, Kafuku confronts the mystery of his wife that quietly haunts him.

An Exclusive Interview with Director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi

Q : It is often said in Japan that Haruki Murakami’s novels are very hard to turn into the films. But this one is based on the short story with the same name,  how did you turn into the film?

Hamaguchi: Haruki Murakami’s novels are hard to turn into a movie, which is very popular among the movie industry, and it seems that he just doesn’t want anyone to make his novel into a feature film, but if it’s a short film, he is very open minded. Recently, this has also become a popular theory among the movie industry as well. 

Q : Come to think of it, the film, “Burning” is also based on Haruki Murakami’s short story as well?

Hamaguchi: Yes. In fact, the Japanese movie “Hanalei Bay” is also based on a short story by Haruki Murakami. I knew that if it was a short story, it would still be easy to get permission to make it into a movie, so Teruhisa Yamamoto, who was the producer of the film, ‘Asako I & II”(Hamaguchi’s previous work) at that time, was a big fan of Haruki Murakami, and he thought that Mr. Murakami’s story would suit me.

At that time it wasn’t “Drive My Car”, but he said, “Why don’t you make this short film into a movie”? After all, I also think that it is difficult to visualize Mr. Murakami’s novels into film. That’s because the story goes back and forth between reality and unreality. However, I read Drive My Car” before, and when I approached it, it was an element that I had done so far, such as conversation in the car, and the theme that I played. There was so many elements that I thought I could do it, so I re-proposed it to Mr. Yamamoto, and I felt like I was moving forward from then on. 

Q : I heard that this script is different from the original book, but which part did you discuss with the screenwriter Takamasa Oe to proceed with the adaptation?

Hamaguchi : At the very first time I got permission, I expected that I wouldn’t be able to interact with Mr. Murakami frequently, so I thought I had to talk to some extent about what I should do in the movie at that point. So, I thought that I had to be quite clear about what I wanted to change in this way and what I wanted to do in this way. However, “Drive My Car” is included in the short story of “Men Without Women”, but “Drive My Car” alone is not enough to make a feature film.

Haruki Murakami wrote in the preamble that “Men Without Women” deals with the common element of men without women, so the motif is from the novels “Sheera Zard” and “Kino” that I extracted from that.  “Sherazzard” has an element that a woman starts telling a story after having sex, and there is also a story of a high school girl entering a burglary, but Kafuku’s(lead character) wife Is hardly written in the original story of “Drive My Car.” Therefore, I brought this element (“Sherazzard”) to make the character more like a three-dimensional.

In another novel called “Kino”, this is a situation where wife is having an affair like Kafuku, but Kafuku is reached at the end of the movie as it is the spiritual state, which was a borderline, and I thought that this was the destination of Kafuku, so I put that element in a place like the future of this film. The other is “Uncle Vanya.” What kind of work a person is doing is very important, so when I thought that Kafuku had to show concretely what kind of work he was doing as a director of the play in the film, I realized this “Uncle Vanya” was written in the Murakami’s original book, so when I read it back, I read it very much as the feeling of Kafuku. Kafuku is like a person who has lost his life once, so I thought that it would be effective in imagining the feelings of Kafuku in a movie that can’t be done in the first person, so I decided to do it all by combining those stories.

At this point, I was working only with myself and the producer, Mr. Yamamoto, but in the process of writing the lines of in detail when actually writing the script, I asked screenwriter Mr. Oe to join me. The reason I asked Mr. Oe was that he is familiar with theater and I have no experience in theater, so I wrote about the reality of theater with Mr. Oe’s advice.

Q : Kafuku’s wife, Oto died in the first half of the film, however, the sound source of the read-through of the script is left on the recorder from Kafuku’s wife, Oto which is depicted in the whole movie as if she still exists, was that written in the original book, or was it something that you had in mind?

Hamaguchi : The element that Kafuku infused “Uncle Vanya” on the cassette tape of the car and practiced the lines with it is written in the original book, but it is not written as the voice of his wife. However, in a movie, it is difficult to express in the first person, and it makes me spend too much time to go back and forth, especially flashbacks are descriptive. Instead, to directly express that the past has had a great influence, if this was his wife’s voice, he could express it directly, he was still trapped in the past, and it makes sense that he didn’t want to get out of the car. So I added it because I thought it would be an expression that Kafuku didn’t want to do.

Q : In the original book, Kafuku is an actor, but did you make him as a director of the play because you felt that there was a wide range of approaches that you can do in the film? 

Hamaguchi : I think it was. Rather than being an actor, making the existence of Kafuku as a director of the play, it can make the role bigger, and in the original book, suddenly Kafuku goes to the bar and talk about the memories of his wife with Takatsuki, It’s not so interesting to talk only at the bar in a movie because of the their relationship as actor. So, in the film, I minimized the bar sequences, and I thought it would be nice to have a more dynamic relationship, or simply a situation where the two had to be together. Then, it would be better to have a relationship where Kafuku as a director of the play and Takatsuki came as an actor in this play, not to mention emotional movements, but also whether Kafuku meet Takatsuki as a director of the play or some kind of revenge. I thought it would be of interest to the audience.

Q : The car used in this film is Saab 900, but what was the particularity reason that you chose this car?

Hamaguchi : Regarding the Saab 900, it is written in the original book, but in the original book, it is a yellow convertible. However, in an open car, there is a big problem of noise, because Kafuku does read-through the script through the car recorder is an important in this film, and it is fatal that the synchronized sound can not be used, so the open car is I decided it was difficult to shoot. Also, I thought that the color yellow is a little too flashy for Japan, and that it doesn’t fit well with the Japanese landscape. It’s similar to green, so it’s a little easier to get buried from the wide shot. That’s why I chose Saab 900 red because red is more prominent.

Q : Shooting in the car is reminiscent of the work of director Abbas Kiarostami in Iran, what kind of approach that you did by shooting in the car? 

Hamaguchi : When I was trying to make “Drive My Car” into a movie, I thought that I might be able to make a movie just like Kiarostami. Among the Kiarostami movies, especially the movies “Ten (Japanese title” 10 episodes “)” and “Taste of Cherry”, the movie itself is made while moving and talking by car, and driving the car becomes a symbol of their life. As they talked, the relationships between humans changed, and I felt like I was reaching a certain destination, even when I was condensing their life, so that was in my head. What I learned from director Kiarostami is that I actually run the road properly. I thought that I had to be captured on the road because there was a chance that it would be special footages that captured on the road by running on an actual and real road instead of the composite images. 

Q : In the movie, Kafuku make the actors read through the script without much of their emotion, but I’m wondering that, do you let actors read through the script in the same way? 

Hamaguchi : I do as well, but It’s not exactly the same way Kafuku is doing, but basically, to read emotionally is to have people throw away the assumptions they have in the first place. If you play with assumptions, you will play your own image rather than playing the other person, so the element of total reaction with the other actor will be weakened. If you can throw this away as much as possible and act as a comprehensive reaction to the other party, the reaction that is actually happening on the spot will come in more and more effective. 

Q : Why multi language was incorporated into the theatrical performances in the film?  Was it your conscious choice because you intended this film would be exhibiting at overseas film festivals, or the diversity of the United States in recent year? 

Hamaguchi : Rather than thinking about diversity that much, I’m thinking about what it’s like to act simply in the play. I think that it is one way to get rid of the clue of the meaning of words, how to react to the other person as I just said. It’s because you have to rely on the other person’s body language, the other person’s voice and sound, or put the actor in a situation where you can’t react unless you see and hear the other person properly. So I thought that it would be possible to perform some kind of realism-like performance that simply reacts to each other.

Q : In recent years, you have been exhibited at many overseas film festivals and have seen overseas films, so what is missing in the Japanese film industry now?

Hamaguchi : Because the film was made very cheaply. In short, I think that Japan has the virtue of making cheap and good things in every genre, and in fact, it can be done, and all the staff are enthusiastic about making cheap and good things. By doing so, the overall salary may be kept low or may continue to fall. But, from the perspective of other countries, Japanese film directors have been making films with such a budget that they shouldn’t be able to make them with such money. Unless we stop doing that fundamentally, I think it will be difficult for Japanese films to always reach world standards.

Here’s the trailer of the film.

Nobuhiro Hosokihttps://www.cinemadailyus.com
Nobuhiro Hosoki grew up watching American films since he was a kid; he decided to go to the United States thanks to seeing the artistry of Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange.” After graduating from film school, he worked as an assistant director on TV Tokyo’s program called "Morning Satellite" at the New York branch office but he didn’t give up on his interest in cinema. He became a film reporter for via Yahoo Japan News. In that role, he writes news articles, picks out headliners for Yahoo News, as well as interviewing Hollywood film directors, actors, and producers working in the domestic circuit in the USA. He also does production interviews for Japanese distributors of American films and for in-theater on-sale programs. He is now the editor-in-chief of Cinemadailyus.com while continuing his work for Japan.

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