[Review] The Natural Unnaturalness of “Drive My Car” (Director Hamaguchi Ryusuke, Original Murakami Haruki)

I wrote this article in Japanese and translated it into English using ChatGPT. I also used ChatGPT to create the English article title. I did my best to correct any translation mistakes, but please let me know if you find any errors. By the way, I did not use ChatGPT when writing the Japanese article. The entire article was written from scratch by me, Saikawa Goto.



Movies and books covered in this article

(Click This Image to Go Directly to the Amazon Prime Video Movie “Drive My Car”: Image from Amazon.com)

I will write an article about this movie/book

What I want to convey in this article

The magic power to put the audience into a hypnotic state by continuing “words and deeds without emotion” from the very beginning.

Saikawa Goto

I felt that the reason why the movie progresses slowly for three hours is to create this hypnotic state.

Three takeaways from this article

  1. Why do the actions that are “unnatural” in the world we live in appear “natural” in this movie?
  2. Nishijima Hidetoshi is the reason why he is so well suited for this role.
  3. Thanks to the “natural unnaturalness”, the worldview of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” becomes contiguous.
Saikawa Goto

I’m so glad I changed my mind and went to see this movie, as I had decided not to see it for a variety of reasons.

Self-introduction article


Please refer to the self-introduction article above to learn about the person writing this article. Be sure to check out the Kindle book linked below as well.

Published Kindle books(Free on Kindle Unlimited)

“The genius Einstein: An easy-to-understand book about interesting science advances that is not too simple based on his life and discoveries: Theory of Relativity, Cosmology and Quantum Theory”

“Why is “lack of imagination” called “communication skills”?: Japanese-specific”negative” communication”

The quotes used in this article are based on notes taken at the movie theater from movies in Japanese and are not direct quotes from the foreign language original movies, even if they exist.

I was Surprised at How Interesting a 3-Hour Movie with Nothing Really Happening Could be

I wasn’t planning on watching “Drive My Car”. There are several reasons for this, but to begin with, I’m a contrarian, and I tend to think that “movies that are being talked about don’t necessarily need to be watched.” Also, the fact that it is a movie based on a short story by Murakami Haruki was a point that I couldn’t interest. I’m not a fervent “Harukist,” but I do like Murakami Haruki’s novels and have read quite a few of them. However, I didn’t think that his works could be adapted into a good movie. Even though there have been movies based on Murakami Haruki’s novels before, every time, I thought, “I won’t watch it because it’s based on a novel by Murakami Haruki.”

Saikawa Goto

I feel I don’t hear much good about movies based on Murakami Haruki’s works.


The fact that it’s “based on Murakami Haruki’s work” raises the bar, which makes it harder to evaluate, right.

There is another reason, but I will touch on that later. Besides, because I had never heard of the director Hamaguchi Ryusuke in the first place, it wasn’t a film that made me want to watch it just because of the director’s name.

So, this is a movie that I definitely wouldn’t have watched if I hadn’t heard such good things about it. Even though I don’t usually spend much time online, I started hearing all these rave reviews about “Drive My Car,” and I just couldn’t ignore them. It was around the end of 2021, during the holiday season, when I finally decided to look for a theater showing the film and go see it.

“Drive My Car,” which I touched in such a way, was very nice and made me very surprised. I had raised the bar considerably when I learned of the previous reviews, but this film easily surpassed that hurdle. It really took my breath away.

I know there might be some people out there who, like me, are hesitant to watch this movie for whatever reason, but I highly recommend giving it a chance. You won’t regret it!

I was Stunned by the Fact of Being Able to Achieve “Natural Unnaturalness” through a “Movie” Performed by Real Human Beings

To begin with, I haven’t read the short story by Murakami Haruki that this movie is based on. Upon researching, it seems to be included in “Men Without Women” (Bungeishunju).

I was amazed that they made a feature-length film of 179 minutes based on a short story that apparently is less than 50 pages.

Saikawa Goto

I watched a film adaptation of a short story called “フィッシュストーリー (Fish Story)” by Isaka Kotaro before, and it was really good.


When a novel is adapted into a film, the content would be often significantly reduced, but with a short story, the film director can add their own style, so it can be more interesting in a different way.

Although I haven’t read the original “Drive My Car,” I have read some of Murakami Haruki’s works and feel a sense of “natural unnaturalness” from his novels. Let’s start with this explanation.

I feel like Murakami Haruki’s novels lack realism in terms of setting, characters, dialogue, and plot. While not exactly fantasy, if the world of his novels existed exactly as is in our reality, we would feel like it’s “a bit impossible” and “extremely unnatural.”

However, within the world that Murakami Haruki creates, I don’t feel that it’s unnatural at all. Of course, this feeling may vary from person to person, and some may feel that his work is simply “unnatural.” But for me, various things that would be extremely unnatural in our world feel natural within the novels of Murakami Haruki.

And I also felt the same “natural unnaturalness” from the movie “Drive My Car”, which was very surprising to me.

As mentioned earlier, the “natural unnaturalness” created in Murakami Haruki’s works is simply “unnaturalness” in the world we live in. Moreover, unless it’s a full CG work, movies are made with “real human beings” playing roles in the world we live in. It would be difficult to create “natural unnaturalness” in movies in normal circumstances. That’s why I was surprised that “natural unnaturalness” is inherent in “Drive My Car”.

Saikawa Goto

However, I didn’t feel like “this is so Murakami Haruki-like” while watching the movie.


The “natural unnaturalness” created in the movie feels like something original to the film director, Hamaguchi Ryusuke.

In the movie, I tried to think about how “natural unnaturalness” is achieved. I believe what’s important is to keep thoroughly emotions out of the acting, lines, and behavior from the beginning of the film.

Kafuku Yusuke, the protagonist, is a stage director and known for his work on Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” Before rehearsals, he forces the actors to “speak their lines without emotions.” I’m not sure what kind of directorial intent is behind this, but he’s so strict that he even warns them if any emotion is seen in their lines.

Incidentally, I, who was first introduced to Hamaguchi Ryusuke’s films through “Drive My Car,” was completely unaware of this, but it is said that “having the actors read the script without any emotion” is a technique actually practiced by the director Hamaguchi Ryusuke. I have seen several of his films since “Drive My Car,” and I felt that the actors to be extremely restrained in their performances. In short, I think Kafuku Yusuke’s style can be described as Hamaguchi Ryusuke’s style.

Furthermore, Kafuku Yusuke is a stage actor himself and is also well-known for his role as Vanya in “Uncle Vanya”. While driving, such Kafuku has a habit of listening to a tape which features his wife speaking all the lines except for those of Vanya, which Kafuku speaks Vanya’s lines that are blank. However, the delivery of the lines on the tape is flat and lacks emotion. Even Kafuku himself speaks his lines without emotion while driving.

In movies, the lines are filled with “emotionless dialogue” from the beginning, and this extends beyond just the dialogue to their expressions and movements as well. It means that normally, in scenes where emotions would naturally show through their voice, expressions, and movements, everyone appearing in the scene shows a posture as if they are not feeling anything at all.

And I felt that the secret of “natural unnaturalness” is that the audience becomes more and more accustomed to such a worldview.


When you think about it that way, you can understand why the movie is three hours long, can’t you.

Saikawa Goto

The first half of the movie can be seen as a kind of preparation phase for hypnosis in a sense.

Actually, at the beginning, I feel a sense of discomfort wondering why everyone is behaving as if they have lost their emotions, but gradually it becomes natural in the movie. And I felt that as the audience gradually gets used to the movie world, a strange phenomenon occurs where things that should feel uncomfortable become natural.

In the movie, the main characters are Kafuku Yusuke and woman driver named Watari Misaki who appears later on. These two characters are expressionless and speak in a calm and monotone manner, showing little emotional movement. While it is true that the setting suggests that these two characters can’t be helped even if they cannot express their emotions, their presence in the movie feels more established by the consistent stance held from the beginning rather than the power of the setting.

Especially, the exchange between Kafuku Yusuke and Watari Misaki reminds me of Murakami Haruki’s characters with their “unnaturalness,” but it doesn’t seem odd in the movie world.

I felt that this is the true nature of “natural unnaturalness.”

The Role that Actor Nishijima Hidetoshi is Known for

Now, at the beginning, I wrote that there was another reason why I had decided not to watch “Drive My Car”, and it has to do with Nishijima Hidetoshi being the starring actor. I just can’t seem to like his acting.

I haven’t really seen him act all that much, but as an actor with many appearances, I have opportunities to see him here and there. And every time, I can’t help but feel like “I can’t really say he’s good at this.” As someone who can’t act, I don’t have the right to say anything, but compared to other actors, he just seems to fall short.

That’s why the fact that Nishijima Hidetoshi stars in the movie was another reason that kept me away from this work.

Saikawa Goto

When I tell this kind of story to other people, they tend to agree with me.


When I look it up on the internet, I also see many similar opinions, so I think there are definitely some people who feel that way.

However, as I have been writing repeatedly so far, “moving and speaking without emotion” becomes very important for the nature of the work in “Drive My Car.” That’s why I felt that it was a perfect role for Nishijima Hidetoshi.

I’ve read a news article on the internet before where a veteran actor was talking about struggling with “acting in a monotonous.” It seems that it’s actually harder for actors who can naturally put emotions into their lines to speak without emotions.

However, while it’s just my personal impression, I feel that Nishijima Hidetoshi, who I generally end up feeling acting in a monotonous, didn’t require much effort to speak without emotion in “Drive My Car.”


You seem to be saying really bad things, don’t you?

Saikawa Goto

I don’t mean it that way, but I guess it sounds like that.

At least in the film “Drive My Car,” I feel that Nishijima Hidetoshi’s performance was perfectly fitting, and the casting was spot on. Even if I try to imagine Kafuku Yusuke played by another famous actor, I can’t think of anyone who would fit as well. It may sound harsh, but it could be that Nishijima Hidetoshi, who appears “unnatural” in the world we live in, looks “natural” in the world of “Drive My Car.”

I was very surprised at how much an actor’s visual performance can change with direction.

Various Things that Exist Because of “Natural Unnaturalness”

So far, in my own way, I have discussed why there is a “natural unnaturalness” in this film, but now let’s talk about the situation that exists because of “natural unnaturalness.”

As I mentioned earlier, this movie incorporates a play called “Uncle Vanya.” If you think about it normally, the elements of “Uncle Vanya” should appear to float above the reality of the movie. It’s a work by Chekhov, an ancient playwright, and the setting and dialogue are not modern, so it’s normal to see it as “the stage of ‘Uncle Vanya’ existing separately within the world of the movie.”

However, in this movie, the elements of “Uncle Vanya” are blended into the world of the work. I felt that this is exactly because of “natural unnaturalness.” Of course, I understand that it is “a description of the stage of ‘Uncle Vanya'” or “uttering the lines of ‘Uncle Vanya’s’ stage.” However, it also feels like a seamless part of the world of “Drive My Car.” It means that instead of “the stage of ‘Uncle Vanya’ existing separately within the world of the movie,” it becomes “the world of the movie and the stage of ‘Uncle Vanya’ exist side by side.”

That’s why the lines spoken by actors playing roles in the play “Uncle Vanya” written by Chekhov directly affect the world of the movie “Drive My Car.” In other word, it means that both the words of “Kafuku Yusuke” and the lines spoken by “Kafuku Yusuke” as the role of Vanya have an equal presence.


This is a pretty amazing composition, isn’t it?

Saikawa Goto

Even if one came up with the idea, they wouldn’t normally be able to make it work, so I think it’s impressive that they were able to create such a unique world view.

And it can be said that this is thanks to the “natural unnaturalness”. In the world we live in, the lines from Chekhov’s play can only exist as something that feels out of place. However, because the world of “Drive My Car” is adorned with “natural unnaturalness,” Chekhov can be assimilated into everyday life.

In addition, the scene in the latter half that is established by permeating the “natural unnaturalness” into the audience over a long period of time was also impressive. There is a scene in the movie where a “detective” appears, but even in that scene, the world view of “Drive My Car” does not collapse.

In a sense, I feel that the “detective” is an embodiment of realism. No matter how much a world view that is detached from reality is created, just the appearance of a “detective” gives the feeling that the world view collapses instantly. In some cases, it would be used as an entity that brings the “impractical world” back to reality.

However, in “Drive My Car,” even when such an “embodiment of realism” appears, its unique atmosphere never disappears. I felt that this is precisely because the film has been hypnotizing the audience since the beginning and because the audience has fully been permeating the concept of “natural unnaturalness.”

Saikawa Goto

By the appearance of the “detective,” I may have realized that I was under hypnosis.


It’s strange that even if one realizes they’re under hypnosis, they can’t snap out of it.

I think this is a magical work that reveals an amazing world.

The “Blank Space” Without Any Explanation or Depiction is Pleasant

Movies would not be the only things where “tempo” seems to take priority in modern times. For example, on YouTube, conversation gaps are edited out and the intro of songs are removed to start immediately the lyrics, all of which reinforces this impression.

In such times, this movie moves along very slowly. There are many scenes that would be shaved cut in a typical visual production and don’t seem to be portraying anything in particular. However, these scenes are not boring at all and in fact leave a comfortable impression.

In the first place, since emotions are hardly visible in this work even when the characters speak or move, it can be said that there is little difference whether they are silent or still. Therefore, I felt that scenes with little sound or movement may be seamlessly connected to other scenes that are not.

Such scenes that can only be expressed as “blank space” are scattered throughout the movie and strongly influence the overall atmosphere.

Additionally, because of the many “blank spaces” in the story, the weight of what is “dared to be told and depicted” within them becomes very significant. One particularly striking scene in the movie is when a character continues a story about a “high school girl who was a lamprey in her past life.” It is certain that there’s a great deal of narrative significance in “the person being able to tell the continuation of the story,” but even more surprising is the impression that the “content of the story itself,” which should not have any inherent meaning, has a special weight. Despite the fact that many things could be depicted within the three-hour runtime, the long-winded telling of the story about the “high school girl who was a lamprey in her past life” causes us to feel some sort of meaning in the story itself.

Saikawa Goto

This scene was shot in a long take, and the impression of the character calmly speaking while creating an eerie atmosphere was striking.


There’s a somewhat disturbing feeling that seeps out, and it lingers in our memory precisely because the movie is generally lacking in emotion.

In addition, there is an actress who performs using sign language in this movie, and I think her inability to speak also creates a sense of “blank space” in a way. The way the movie creates various forms of “blank space” and gives them meaning is impressive.


I didn’t touch much on the story itself, but honestly, I think this is a movie without any particular storys. However, I felt that the way in which the story was driven by strange happenings in various places was very well done. In addition, there are quite a few scenes where words dominate the situation, such as the conversations between Kafuku and his wife, and the scene where Watari Misaki talks about “why she’s good at driving,” which was interesting to me as someone who is more drawn to “words” than “visuals.”

I really think it was good to watch. Because sometimes things like this happen, I felt once again that I need to touch things without any preconceptions.

Published Kindle books(Free on Kindle Unlimited)

“The genius Einstein: An easy-to-understand book about interesting science advances that is not too simple based on his life and discoveries: Theory of Relativity, Cosmology and Quantum Theory”

“Why is “lack of imagination” called “communication skills”?: Japanese-specific”negative” communication”

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