Engines from critically acclaimed Japanese movie “Drive My Car” in Houston

FILE – This image posted by Janus Films and Sideshow shows Hidetoshi Nishijima, left, and Toko Miura in a scene from “Drive My Car”. (Janus Films and Sideshow via AP, File)

Photo: Associated press

There is something like good timing when it comes to scheduling a movie, although some might choose to call it good luck. This is how the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston chose “Drive My Car” as the centerpiece of its brief Japanese film series, long before the New York Film Critics Association and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association chose it as the centerpiece. the best film of the year. (Not the best international film. The best film, period).

“Drive My Car,” showing December 26, December 30 and January 2, isn’t the only attraction here. The MFAH also selected “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy”, another excellent new film by prolific “Car” director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi which premiered last week; and “Labyrinth of Cinema”, a hyper-whimsical fantasy about three young men who step into on-screen action in a movie theater (shades of “The Purple Rose of Cairo” by Woody Allen), screened on December 31 and January 1st.

But “Drive My Car” is the one to look for. Melancholy, thoughtful, yet somehow alive and hopeful, it’s a penetrating study of heartbreak and art, and a reminder that some epics cut across the emotional landscape rather than oversized worlds.

Based on a short story by Haruki Murakami (from the collection “Men Without Women”), the film tells the story of Yasuke Kafuku (the superb Hidetoshi Nishijima), director and theater actor married to an unfaithful television screenwriter ( Reika Kirihima). They lost a child, and he quietly accepts her infidelities – we see him stepping on one of them and quietly leaving the room – and when she suddenly dies, he sinks deep inside himself. He eventually accepted a position as director of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” at a nationwide theater festival in Hiroshima.

A good stoic deserves another, and Yasuke gradually finds himself opening up to his driver from Hiroshima, Misaki Watari (Tôko Miura. For Yasuke, the ride is a sacrament, the moment he crosses lines and enters. into the game world. As he slowly lets Misaki in and gets to know his own grief, we are privileged to witness their unconventional fellowship.

“Drive My Car” lasts three hours, but it seems to go by in the blink of an eye. Hamaguchi is a keen and keen observer of human nature, unafraid of long shots that draw viewers in and invite them to stay for a while. He believes in cinema and theater as a means of searching the human soul. He’s not just interested in finding out what makes us tick. He wants to explore the reasons why we stay alive. He’s up to something similar in “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy,” a strangely titled tapestry of three jagged love stories that take off in unexpected directions.

Rewards are never a good enough reason to see a movie, but they can entice the curious to go to the movies. ‘Drive My Car’ seems to be one of those crossover hits that finds its way into mainstream culture, much like South Korea’s ‘Parasite’ did in 2019. If I was a gambler, I would put it on for a better movie. Oscar nomination. And if that gives you a nudge in the direction of the film, all the better.

Japanese film series

When: “Drive My Car” screens at 2 p.m. on December 26, 2 p.m. on December 30, 2 p.m. on January 2; Screening of the “Cinema Labyrinth” at 1pm on December 31st to 3pm on January 1st

Rated: The two films are not rated

Operating time: Both last 179 minutes.

Or: Lynn Wyatt Theater, National Gallery, 5500 Main

Details: $ 9; mfah.org/films

Chris Vognar is a Houston-based writer.





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