Drive My Car


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Only Ryusuke Hamaguchi—with his extraordinary sensitivity to the mysterious resonances of human interactions—could sweep up international awards and galvanize audiences everywhere with a pensive, three-hour movie about an experimental staging of an Anton Chekhov play, presented in nine languages and adapted from Haruki Murakami stories. With Drive My Car, the Japanese director has confirmed his place among contemporary cinema’s most vital voices. Two years after his wife’s unexpected death, Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) arrives in Hiroshima to direct a production of Uncle Vanya for a theater festival and, through relationships with an actor (Masaki Okada) with whom he shares a tangled history and a chauffeur (Toko Miura) with whom he develops a surprising rapport, finds himself confronting emotional scars. This quietly mesmerizing tale of love, art, grief, and healing is ultimately a cathartic exploration of what it means to go on living when there seems to be no road ahead.

Picture 8/10

Winner of the 2022 Best Foreign Film Oscar, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car receives a Blu-ray release from The Criterion Collection and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The picture has been encoded at 1080p/24hz.

Drive My Car was filmed digitally using an ARRI ALEXA Mini LF camera and then completed within an entirely digital workflow. The camera in question is capable of a maximum resolution of 4.5K (depending on framerate, aspect ratio and more) but despite whatever resolution the film was shot in it appears as though the final digital intermediate is in 2K resolution. Criterion’s notes state they are presenting the film from a 2K master supervised by the director.

Looking at the overall presentation the image is certainly pleasing but it is littered with some frustrating artifacts. Right off the clearest issue is in how the black levels can be rendered. Digital photography can run into problems when capturing blacks and the degree of the problem can vary depending on a variety of factors that include the type of camera, the resolution, how the shot was originally lit, and even how the data is ultimately compressed. I will say that for most of the presentation the blacks can come off deep and inky with adequately rendered shadows. Yet there are a lot of moments where the blacks can come out crushed or milky, effectively flattening the image in the process. Some bad instances include a handful of darker shots inside the central car of the film, while a shot featuring police taking one character out of a darkened theater delivers an incredibly flat gray image.

Admittedly it’s hard to say whether these issues are baked into the original photography or a byproduct of something that happened during the encoding process, like compression limiting the range in the blacks to save bandwidth. Because of the camera used for filming I'm leaning more towards these artifacts being related to an encoding issue but I can't say for sure. Other issues also pop up with some suggesting encode problems, ranging from banding artifacts—the opening fade being especially bad—to macroblocking and minor halos. In the case of the last artifact it's more than likely a byproduct of the photography because I found them more obvious when there is a darker object over a brighter background, like Oto’s (Reika Kirishima) silhouette during the film’s opening moments. Still, small jagged edges are be evident in these shots on occasion. Another issue worth noting is the presence of mild shimmering effects on tighter patterns, like jacket zippers.

These issues end up sticking out more only because the presentation is otherwise pleasing as a whole. There is a lot of finer detail present and I though textures were also rendered well overall. The image of course has that smooth digital look but it doesn’t appear any filtering has been applied. Colours can be bright and bold, the red Saab leaping out nicely. Even the final shots that take place in South Korea have a nice vibrancy. Sequences that take place in a snowy landscape close to the end do look a little duller than I probably would have expected but I’m sure this is intentional.

Ultimately the image is fine but it’s held back by some pesky artifacts that can be hard to ignore. I’m giving some leeway since these problems could be inherent to the master files, but if I'm being honest I don't think all of them are.

Audio 8/10

The film is more of a character study without a lot of action yet it ends up having a rather immersive sound design that is delivered through this DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround soundtrack. Dialogue and most effects are focused to the fronts but ambient noise and other background effects do make their way to the rears, sometimes in a surprisingly aggressive manner. Street sounds, noises bouncing in a tunnel, theater audiences, and even a buzzing sound in a parking garage are mixed naturally to the rears. Rain is also effectively mixed through the surrounds, one startling moment captured as the film’s central car comes out of a tunnel and into it. It’s an effective mix with a wide amount of range present, delivered in a sharp and clear manner.

Extras 4/10

Despite the film’s surprise success and award wins Criterion has sadly put together what would have been once called a “low-tier edition” back in the day, throwing in only a handful of supplements. The best of these is a brand-new 25-minute interview with director Rysuke Hamaguchi, recorded earlier in 2022. The filmmaker does talk extensively about the production and adapting the short story by Haruki Muranami. He also talks about the film’s length and why the opening 40-minutes is so important in getting the proper reaction from the audience later. But the interview ends up being more than just a production summary as the director also talks about his film school years under director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, explaining how the filmmaker directly influenced his own work and style. I also rather enjoyed his discussion around his 2012 documentary on the earthquake and tsunami that hit the coastal areas of Japan the year before, where he explains how his travels, being stuck in a car a lot of the time and just listening to people influenced this film. It’s an incredibly engaging and perceptive discussion.

Unfortunately the rest of the material leaves a lot to be desired. Criterion does include the Cannes press conference following its screening there in 2021, featuring the director along with executive producer Yuji Sadai and actors Reika Kirishima, Toko Miura and Sonia Yuan, but it’s a rough one. The first 10-minutes isn’t especially informative (unless you’re wondering about the rental of the car) and then technical difficulties end up impacting things when an interpreter isn’t available to interpret a question (Criterion doesn’t include subtitles but based on Hamaguchi’s response I assume it was around the international cast). There is some talk about doing table reads, which amusingly sound to have reflected what was in the film, and then there are questions about the critical reactions to the film, but overall I can’t say I was especially taken by much here.

Also a bit flimsy is a 36-minute behind the scenes featurette constructed from excerpts from a much longer (3-hour) making-of documentary. I haven’t seen the full feature but what I’ve read about it suggests it’s not especially informative with what can be considered “working with so-and-so is great!” type interviews. I guess that means this is probably a “greatest hits” compilation and if that’s the case I can’t say we’re missing much. From the material Criterion seems to be delivering the briefest possible summary of the film’s production, which was greatly impacted by COVID. The biggest issue that arose appears to have been restrictions that prevented them from filming more of the film in South Korea and leading to them changing one of the settings. To my surprise the one sequence in the film that takes place in South Korea was also filmed in Japan. There are a handful of interview excerpts and inserted titles abridge topics, but this is ultimately just an average making-of.

The film’s American trailer closes off the disc supplements. I am rather shocked and disappointed that Criterion didn’t include any academic material, or even anything around the original story or even Uncle Vanya for that matter, but Bryan Washington’s essay found in the included insert covers this a little. He also puts the film in the context of some of Hamaguchi’s other work.

All around it’s a very disappointing special edition, the filmmaker interview being the only thing I found to be of any real value.


Despite the film’s accolades Criterion’s edition ends up being surprisingly sparse in features with a presentation hampered by some noticeable artifacts.


Directed by: Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Year: 2021
Time: 179 min.
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 1136
Licensor: The Match Factory
Release Date: July 19 2022
MSRP: $39.95
1 Disc | BD-50
1.85:1 ratio
Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Subtitles: English
Region A
 New interview with Ryusuke Hamaguchi   Program about the making of the film, featuring behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with actors Reika Kirishima, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Masaki Okada, Yoo-rim Park, Dae-Young Jin, and others   Press conference footage from the film’s premiere at the 2021 Cannes International Film Festival   Trailer   An essay by author Bryan Washington