[2021 has mercifully ended, which means it’s that time of the year again when the Flixist staff gathers around for our 2021 Golden Cages! Every year we honor the best, and worst, that cinema has to offer, and with cinemas opening up again, we had many films to consider for each category! So read on dear reader, to see what the correct answers are to which movies were truly stand-out films last year!]
Drive My Car didn’t need to be as excellent as it is. Adapting the short story of the same name by lauded Japanese author Haruki Murakami, the narrative itself deals with adaptation, Yusuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima) our lead, a playwright and director coping with the loss of his wife (Reika Kirishima) and a tricky Dostoevsky production. The film is a minute shy of three hours long, dealing with unspoken disillusionment and deep hollowness following loss, but also the sparks of life and connection those grieving may find.
And Ryusuke Hamaguchi handles it scene after scene without flaw.
The length of Drive My Car is likely something you’ve heard brought up time and again, an easy point for potential viewers to harp on. 1. You think 179 minutes is long? Try catching Hamaguchi’s excellent 2015 film Happy Hour, which clocks in at 317 minutes. and 2. Settle in and get in the mood, because Drive My Car’s three hours are like three hours of a warm bath or a soothing therapy session.
Hamaguchi uses the length of scenes to keep things going in real-time, avoiding jump-cuts or trimming to submerge his audience in moments of deceptively-simple life, his actors all immaculate and natural. It’s a film that knows when to veer off course, shaking up its visual language and locations with bursts of interesting sights like a trash disposal facility or a third-act road trip of devastating impact. And yet, Drive My Car doesn’t wallow in misery or ask its audience to reevaluate their lives. It’s a deeply meditative film, Hamaguchi using the pacing of Yusuke’s rehearsals and production of Uncle Vanya to lull his audience into a trance, the aforementioned breaks in location or plot developments shocking the system but never delivering something like violence or upset. Hamaguchi, directing a script he wrote with Takamasa Oe, is clinical and efficient while still tapping into deeply relatable, human emotions.
Hamaguchi has proven himself to be a deeply thoughtful filmmaker with an approach almost like a brilliant magician. He gives you time to sink into a comfort zone, entranced by his actors and their exchanges, becoming enraptured by the conversation and utterly invested. As if Drive My Car weren’t enough, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is another terrific film he directed, released last year. That too involves elaborate, chatty, and very earnest stories about connection and finding solace in others. Whatever he does, Ryusuke Hamaguchi has repeatedly proven himself to be a titan of modern cinema, and 2021 was his year, easily making him an easy winner for the 2021 Golden Cage for Best Director.