Ryûsuke Hamaguchi: “Tchekhov helped me a lot in writing Drive my car!”

Drive my car, one of the greatest films of the last Cannes edition, took home the Best Screenplay Award. It comes out this Wednesday. Meeting Croisette with its author.

It was the long-running film of the last Cannes edition that saw Titanium leave with the highest laurels. At a time when we were doing this interview facing the Mediterranean in the Croisette “bunker” at the old palmares, we seriously thought to hold on with this Drive my car of the Japanese Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, the big winner. The Screenplay Award, however, suits him well. This adaptation of a short story by Haruki Murakami stretches over three hours and draws a curve of human feelings that makes it the most dramatically rich from the last edition. Under the aegis of Chekov, whose prose infuses all layers of the story, it is a question here of tired passion, renewed inspiration, tenacious guilt, damaged revenge and a… red car that pierces the landscape giving colors to this deliberately dark picture. Drive my Car tells how a theater director bruised after the death of his wife will try to understand what is left of her and them, by agreeing to work on an adaptation ofUncle Vanya. The 42-year-old filmmaker, revealed by the film-Somme Senses (2018) had already presented at the Cannes Film Festival, Asako I & II (2018).

What remains of Haruki Murakami’s short story, of which you are adapting here a new issue from his collection Men without women?

Ryusuke Hamaguchi: Difficult to answer precisely because I obviously took some liberties with the original text. One of the aspects I wanted was to respect the characterization of the two main characters, Yusuke and Misaki, who have principles and above all a very precise line of conduct. In the end, I kept only one replica of the original text, the one the young actor said to his director in the last part: “ To understand others, you must first be able to look yourself in the face. This sentence is the very spirit of the short story and therefore of my film.

The other great author “present” in the film is Anton Tchekhov and his play Uncle Vanya whose rehearsals we follow here …

This goes back to the previous question, since if Uncle Vanya is quoted in Murakami’s text, it does not occupy such a central place as in the film. It only appears in the car sequences with the listening in the car radio of the play recorded by the director’s wife. What I like about Chekhov, and in this play in particular, is the way the text reveals something about the actor that he is not necessarily aware of. The second part of the film mainly focuses on the theater and I wanted to exacerbate this revelation about beings. Murakami’s news is only fifty pages long and ends abruptly. On the contrary, I was looking for a real resolution and in this Uncle Vanya helped me a lot. The play ends with a wonderful idea of ​​hope. ” We will live, we will work. It is through work that my hero can envision the future and accept the death of his wife. He reappropriates his life through Tchekhov’s text, first as a director and then as an actor since he agrees to go back on stage.


One of the stars of the film is the bright red car which occupies a central and electric place in the …

In the news it was already a SAAB but convertible and yellow. However, yellow is a color that blends more easily into an urban setting, unlike red, which is more clashing. But I wanted to catch the eye. I remember we went to a rental company during the preparation of the film to choose the car. We were still at the idea of ​​a yellow convertible SAAB when the rental company arrived with his extremely well-maintained red car. I had an evidence. We have it It should also be noted that if we had opted for a non-convertible car, it would have been impossible to record the dialogues in direct sound.

The action takes place mainly in Hiroshima, a city inevitably steeped in history, why here precisely?

This choice is a coincidence. We were originally supposed to shoot elsewhere. I wanted the main character to be able to go to an international theater festival to participate in this artist residency. We decided to shoot in Busan, South Korea, but the Covid pandemic forced us to shoot inside Japan itself. We had to flee Tokyo at all costs, where filming in a car is a real pain. Obtaining an authorization from the city is, in fact, a real way of the cross. The idea of ​​filming in Hiroshima was submitted to me by my producer. On the one hand, the film commission on site is very welcoming and facilitates a lot of things. By going there, I was also seduced by the very particular light and the very geometric architecture of the city. Obviously the symbol linked to the city is a bit heavy, at the same time it is impossible to avoid it. However, in the film, there is a lot about the responsibility of each of the characters. Take the hero who is first presented as a victim. He discovers that his wife is cheating on him, then she suddenly dies. Little by little, he tries to turn things around and will feed a certain guilt vis-à-vis this tragedy. In a romantic relationship, responsibility is always shared. When something doesn’t work, you have to know how to question yourself. In this, the drama of Hiroshima takes on a particular resonance. How much responsibility did Japan have at that time? How did we get there ?

Your staging is extremely precise. How do you see it, especially in the composition of your executives?

I always warn my cinematographers that the camera should not take precedence over the movements of the actors, but the reverse. A good plan does not interest me. I want my actors to be able to express themselves and therefore move freely. History always takes precedence over technique. I don’t want to be dependent on the talent of my cinematographers in my directing. As a result, I change technicians almost every film.

Drive my car from Ryüsuke Hamaguchi. With: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Toko Miura, Reika Kirishima … Diaphana. Duration: 2h59. Released on August 18.

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