Measuring sadness in “Drive My Car”

By Stuart Mitchner

My entry point to Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Oscar-winning photo drive my car was through the title, which his film shares with the opening track on rubber core and the story of Haruki Murakami opening his 2017 collection, men without women. The Beatles connection continues in the following story, which begins and ends with a character composing and singing deranged lyrics for “Yesterday”. The second track on rubber core gave Murakami the title of his 1987 novel, norwegian foresta book that I can’t wait to read, as well as The chronicle of birds to go upthat Patti Smith celebrates in her memoir M Train.

The city game

Finding Murakami around Hamaguchi was like discovering a thriving metropolis en route to another smaller, newer city. Now I’m heading to a sprawling composite of Hamburg, Berlin and Paris, Texas named Wim Wenders, which I first visited in his movie The American Friendreleased in 1979, the same year Murakami published his first novel, Listen to the wind sing. Somewhere in the same huge state (think Texas, Ohio, and New Jersey all rolled into one) you’ll find Jim Jarmusch Junction, charted somewhere between Hoboken, Memphis, and Paterson.

Chekhov and Jarmusch

Alongside the prospect of a film centered on Chekhov’s directing Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima, what finally convinced me to take a three-hour tour with Hamaguchi last month was the atmosphere of Jarmusch Junction that I saw on the posters of drive my car. Shown standing on either side of the gleaming vehicle that will become the intimate theater of their relationship are At Uncle Vanya’s director Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a tall Vanyaesque man in his forties who looks like he hasn’t laughed since childhood, and his driver Misaki (Tôko Miura), a woman in her twenties sad-faced years in a baseball cap, oversized man jacket and Converse sneakers, looking like he’s never smiled in his life. Suddenly, it’s deja vu again, I’m in the Memphis of Jarmusch in 1989 with a couple of Japanese teenagers, the perky Mitsuko and the solemn Jun (Youki Kudoh and Masatoshi Nagase), fresh from Yokohama aboard the prematurely white-haired director Mystery Train. Almost 30 years later, Nagase would return to Jarmusch as a Japanese poet in Patersonwhich Hamaguchi includes on his list of his ten favorite movies since 2010.

Colonize the subconscious

I have reserved a separate paragraph for the vehicle shown on the posters for drive my cara shiny Saab 900 Turbo in a red as strong as the jacket worn by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, the night porter of a run-down hotel in Mystery Train Memphis, where a woman who comes from Rome wakes up in the night with the ghost of Elvis singing “Blue Moon”. Specifically, given the east-west pedigree/geographic span from Wenders to Jarmusch to Hamaguchi, the resplendent Saab is a cinematic descendant of the bright orange VW Beetle that steals the final scenes of The American Friend, as seen by the late Robby Müller. Cinematographer of choice for Wenders and Jarmusch, Müller was behind the camera for kings of the road (1977), a film in which one of the title characters delivers a line that spans the cross-cultural landscape: “The Yanks have colonized our subconscious. The statement is relevant to Hamaguchi and especially Murakami, who has at times been chastised by the Japanese literary establishment for being subjected to decadent Western influences such as Kafka, Kerouac, Billie Holiday and the Beatles.

Chekhov in the car

Ira Gershwin was presumably thinking of Chekhov when he wrote the lyrics to his brother George’s ‘But Not For Me’, in which love leads to “more clouds of gray than any Russian play could guarantee “. The mood created by this melancholy ballad matches the mood of drive my car. One of the intimate pleasures of film and history is how Uncle Vanya deepens the relationship between Kafuku, the director who plays the play’s tapes in the car (he ends up taking on the title role himself), and the sad-eyed, chain-smoking Misaki, whose quiet mastery of the art of driving soothes his mind. By the time she overhears him quoting lines from Vanya’s loving niece Sonia (she also listened), she’s managed to reach you without a smile and effortlessly and touch you almost before you know it, that you watch the movie or read the story.

Smoke signals

In Murakami, the sequence where Misaki becomes Sonia begins with a reference to her smoking, which she usually does while exhaling through the open sunroof or window. Watching her take “a deep puff, eyes narrowed with pleasure,” Kafuku says, “tobacco is a killer,” to which she replies, in characteristic tongue-in-cheek style, “being alive is a killer. , come to think of it,” eliciting a laugh from his chronically deadpan passenger. After she said, “This is the first time I’ve seen you laugh,” he finally moved on to tell her, “There’s something very attractive about you. You’re not simple at all, you know. (She had been described in these terms by the mechanic who had recommended her skills as a driver). After admitting that her features are simple, “like Sonia’s,” a reference to Chekhov’s character that delights the austere director (even if he’s unable to show it), she recites Sonia’s line, “‘Oh like I’m miserable, I can’t stand it. Why was I born so ill-favoured? At that, he briefly joins her in the room, reciting Vanya’s lament (“‘Oh how unbearable! Is there no help for me?

Hamaguchi makes visual poetry of the union between Kufuku and Misaki with a single image implying a bond on another level, more unusual than that between friends or lovers or family. The driver and passenger seated next to her are smoking when suddenly, as if by telepathic agreement, each is holding a lit cigarette through the open sunroof, both hands raised skyward, as if the cigarettes were miniature torches sending smoke signals in a vacuum. The slow, subtle maturation of the relationship is perhaps the best thing about the film, as it is in the story of Murakami, which Hamaguchi and his actors bring movingly to life. The gesture with the cigarettes held high also suggests a nod to Jim Jarmusch, who shot an entire movie called Coffee and cigarettes.

Hiroshima Mariupol

Most of the driving in Murakami drive my car is set in the streets, boulevards, and highways of Tokyo and the surrounding area, where Murikami ran a cafe and jazz bar called Peter Cat before publishing his first novel (his first job was at a record store). It’s our luck that various twists of fate led Hamaguchi to film in Hiroshima, a choice that immediately makes viewers subconsciously aware of the current moment of war in Ukraine when cities like Mariupol have been razed to the ground. At the heart of the film, on journeys between rehearsals for Uncle Vanya, you know a large and beautiful modern Japanese city with wide boulevards, parks, rivers and bridges surrounded by spectacular views of Hiroshima Bay. But it’s impossible not to feel haunted by the thought of what happened on August 6, 1945 and the riveting 1959 film. Hiroshima my love, directed by Alain Resnais, who said: “In Hiroshima, more than anywhere else, what counts is to live…. one experiences a violent desire to live, a desire for sudden sensations.

Speaking at an Oscars press conference after drive my car wins the award for best international feature film, Hamaguchi said, “Hiroshima guided the story where distraught people seek to find hope.”

measure sadness

Murakami’s Collection men without women begins with “Drive My Car” and ends with the main story, in which the narrator recalls listening to “rock and blues” while driving: “Derek and the Dominos, Otis Redding, the Doors” , and no doubt rubber core by the Beatles. The woman he disappeared and mourns in some kind of prose poem in remembrance loved “elevator music…Percy Faith, Mantovoni”, which she insisted on listening to when they were in the car ( “She knew everything there was to know about all the innocent music in the world”). Now the narrator misses the elevator music. All of her tapes, which she was carrying in a paper bag, are lost “I mean, my car doesn’t even have a tape recorder anymore. When I drive now, I use an iPod with a USB cable.”

Earlier in “Men Without Women,” there’s a paragraph that resonates in “Drive My Car,” both movie and story. Trying to come to terms with the loss of the woman who loved elevator music, the narrator thinks of the everyday things he could have done when he lost her. “No one can keep their eyes on someone every second. You gotta sleep….Gotta slice the onions…Check the air in your tires. Then: ‘After he’s gone, no one knows how bad I feel.’ I felt miserable, how deep the chasm was. How could they? I can barely remember myself. How much did I suffer? How much pain did I endure? I wish there was a machine that could accurately measure sadness and display it in numbers that you could record. And it would be great if this machine could fit in the palm of your hand. I think about it every time I measure the air in my tires.

About Walter J. Leslie

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