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Signaling a change, ‘Drive My Car’ goes to the Oscars Lifestyle

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Jake Coyle is an AP film writer

NEW YORK (AP) – Since the flurry of text messages that greeted him when he got off a plane in Berlin on Morning Oscar nominationin Ryusuk Hamaguchi it was time to reflect on why his film, “Drive my car, ”Resonated as it was.

But he is not so sure. There are only so many ways to ponder how a three-hour Japanese drama, in which the first titles don’t arrive even after 40 minutes, can climb to the highest peak of Hollywood. The emotional epic of grief, communication and art “Drive My Car” has been nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

“The more I think about it, the less I’m sure,” says Hamaguchi. “But one thing I can say is that this is a very normal film. We are talking about people who have all these different flaws, each of whom is trying to have a better life for themselves. Loving someone or something is one way to do it. But when we love someone, one day you lose or separate from that person.

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“It’s almost like an oxymoron,” he adds. “It’s a normal aspect of this film that it’s about losing and gaining love.”

“Drive My Car,” the first Japanese film to ever be nominated for Best Picture, destroys the form of a traditional Oscar contender. Even “Parasite” by Poon Joon Ho, who two years ago became the first winner of the best picture not in English, was less surprising. “Parasite” is a stylish genre film by a world-famous director, whose film has already won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

The road to “Drive My Car” before the Oscars is more winding, as in the movie. While Hamaguchi films – last year he also released an exciting film anthology “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” – The 43-year-old director, who gained international recognition, was much less known in Hollywood. “Drive my car” Last summer won the best screenplay in Cannesbut the response to Hamaguchi’s long film, by the way, took time to gain strength.

“Drive My Car” instead gained its momentum critics who defended the film (both New York and Los Angeles Critics groups named it the best film of the year) and a steady showing in cinemas. There was something indisputable about that, too. Virtually everyone who sat and watched Hamaguchi’s film walked away deeply shocked. “Drive My Car” can be hard to sell, but it has been proven to be easy to love.

“Audiences respond to great films. They just do it, ”says Jonathan Zerin, longtime head of IFC Films, who released“ Drive My Car ”along with the recently launched Sideshow distributor along with Janus Films.

However, “Drive My Car” is less of an anomaly than it seems. TV series such as the small-screen sensation “Squid Game” have shown that subtitles are not as much of an obstacle as was thought. At the same time, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, seeking to diversify its historically white and male membership, has welcomed waves of new international members in recent years.

Once distant film spheres have become closer. Along with “Drive My Car” a number of foreign films – “The Worst Man in the World”, “Parallel Mothers”, “Run Away” – this year received nominations outside the best international film. At the Oscars on March 27, these films far exceed their weight. As the best director, Hamaguchi bypassed the favorites in list A, such as Denis Villeneuve (“Dune”). “Drive My Car” received twice as many nominations as “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

“The fact that it’s three o’clock also shows us that maybe times are changing, people’s susceptibility is changing a little bit,” Hamaguchi said in a recent interview while quarantined in a hotel room in Japan after a trip abroad. “I thought that because of the length of the film it would be difficult to reach a large audience, despite the fact that I am proud and confident of the final product.”

Make no mistake, Hamaguchi and everyone involved in “Drive My Car” are still amazed at the success of the film.

“We all pinch ourselves. No, I like slapping myself more, ”Zerin says. “I would be lying if I told you that one of us thinks he will get such a reception. But we were all incredibly shocked. “

At IFC, Sehring helped pioneer the widespread use of releases on days and days when films debuted in theaters and on demand. But he believes the excitement around “Drive My Car” could only have happened in theaters. There, he has earned $ 1.8 million from ticket sales over the past few months, often ranked among the best averages on the cinema. On Wednesday, it began airing on HBO Max.

“The three-hour Japanese film had to be very challenging. If it premiered on streaming service – and streaming services – it’s a great thing – it would have been lost, ”says Serin.“ They’ll never promote it, and I’d be surprised if there was any streaming the service acquired it in addition to our partners with Criterion ”.

Hamaguchi says all he can do is be grateful – and looks forward to meeting Steven Spielberg and Denzel Washington. Hamaguchi has one thing in common with Spielberg. “Drive My Car” is one of six films that have captured the attention of New York film critics, the Los Angeles Critics Association and the National Society of Film Critics. The rest are “Good Guys”, “Los Angeles Confidential Information”, “Damage Locker”, “Social Network” and Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List”.

Some argue that the Oscars risk becoming too “elitist” when films like “Drive My Car” are honored ahead of the most popular. But there is a distinctive elite film “Drive My Car”, a film that, like “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” by Hamaguchi, maneuvers to unite different characters into an intimate dialogue about their lives. His film seems to be steadily steered towards something sincere. Filmed both before and during the pandemic, “Drive my car” ends with his characters in face masksas if trying to meet us where we are.

“There is this higher, more modern form of communication that is taking place. It is impossible to have such a level of communication with my usual “I”, – says Hamaguchi. “The act of creation really emphasizes that authenticity.”

“Drive My Car” is based on a story by Haruka Murakami and focuses on theatrical actor Yusuke Kafuku, played by Hidetoshi Nishidima, who directs Chekhov’s multilingual production of “Uncle Vanya.” Still mourning his wife’s death, Kafuku heads the cast at rehearsals, where the actors sit and inattentively read their lines, swallowing their tongues for days before playing her.

Hamaguchi uses the same approach with his throws. The effect that creates “Drive my car”, in his opinion, begins with the internal connection of him and his actors.

“In every work we create, it’s important for us to really connect with ourselves first. To create something wonderful, we must first discover ourselves, ”says Hamaguchi. “This process of creation is in itself similar to real communication.”

When he talks, it is easy to get the impression that this is why Hamaguchi makes films – that the connection that his characters are looking for is what he is. “It’s a feeling,” he says, “that’s really what’s left of me when I make a story.”

Follow AP writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

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