The world’s most prestigious film awards have recognized a Japanese director in his 40s for his meticulous script and distinctive approach to directing. This is good news that will stimulate and energize the Japanese film industry.
At the 94th Academy Awards, “Drive My Car,” directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, won the Oscar for International Feature Film, formerly known as the award for Best Foreign Language Film. Films not in the English language are eligible for the award, and 92 countries and regions submitted a film.
This is the first time in 13 years that a Japanese film has won the award since “Okuribito” (“Departures”), directed by Yojiro Takita, at the 2009 Oscars.
Furthermore, “Drive My Car” was the first Japanese film to be nominated in the major categories of Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay; Hamaguchi was also nominated for Best Director.
At last year’s Cannes Film Festival, the film became the first from Japan to win the best screenplay award. With an Oscar this time, it can be said the appeal and power of Japanese films has been presented to the world anew.
The award-winning film is based on a short story of the same name by Haruki Murakami. It depicts the grief and recovery of a stage director whose wife had died.
The theme of “recovery from loss” must have touched the hearts of those who lost family and friends in the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Although the film is three hours long and is thin on entertaining aspects, many have commented that it does not bore them. Hamaguchi cowrote the screenplay and his insistence on a “screenplay that feels like reality” is probably the key to the success of the film.
The film makes bold changes to Murakami’s original story.
As for the film’s particular subject matter, it incorporates the use of various languages and sign language in the play within the film and stands out. It draws attention to Hamaguchi’s peculiar style of directing in which he has actors emotionlessly read their lines in rehearsal in order to bring out natural performances during actual shooting.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that votes on the Oscars has in recent years, after being criticized for being white male dominated, changed to become more diverse, increasing the number of members who are women, non-white and foreign.
In 2020, South Korean film “Parasite” became the first film not in the English language to win the Oscar for Best Picture, regarded as an achievement of the academy’s reforms.
The waning sentiment that Hollywood’s English-language films are the mainstream is providing a boost to films from areas like Japan where English is not predominant.
In the Japanese film industry, directors Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Takeshi Kitano, Hirokazu Koreeda and Naomi Kawase have long been critically recognized on the international stage. Hamaguchi follows in the footsteps of these four, having studied under the likes of Kurosawa at the graduate school of the Tokyo University of the Arts.
With the award this time, the hope is it will serve as an opportunity to further nurture young talent in the film industry.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 29, 2022)