Hamaguchi Ryusuke’s “Drive My Car” is now making headlines in Japan after winning the best international feature Oscar. The film is only the second from the country to take the prize, the previous one being the 2008 “Departures.”
Released domestically in August, “Drive My Car” had earned only $250,000 by the end of 2021, despite winning three awards at Cannes, including best screenplay for Hamaguchi and co-writer Oe Takamasa. But as accolades continued to pile up, including eight prizes at the Japan Academy awards this March, anticipation here grew that Hamaguchi and his film would also do well at the Oscars. And once it snagged four Academy Award nominations, including a first-ever best picture nod for a Japanese film, local pride swelled, as did speculation about its broader impact.
In a pre-Oscars interview, Yamamoto Teruhisa, the film’s producer, said that the critical success of “Drive My Car” would “change the (Japanese) industry” in a more international direction.
The post-Oscars reaction, however, is more celebratory than reflective, with congratulations pouring in on social media, though on Twitter Komine Kenji, an entertainment reporter for the “Asahi Shimbun” newspaper, opined that “This does not mean a victory for Japanese cinema. It may sound like I am putting a damper on a historical accomplishment, but it’s true.” He went on to observe that no major Japanese film company offered to produce or distribute the film and that its budget was in range of $1 million – laughably low by Hollywood or even European standards for a director of Hamaguchi’s status. “It’s not really a film ‘representative’ of the Japanese film industry,” Komine said.
A more positive note was struck by the Japanese government chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, who told the media in a morning presser that the “Drive My Car” Oscar triumph “is a historic accomplishment.” He did not, however, say whether Hamaguchi would be given a government award.
And on a lighter note, staff at the Grand Prince Hotel in Hiroshima, where the film’s lead character, played by Hidetoshi Nishijima, stays during his work on a multilingual version of Chekov’s play “Uncle Vanya,” staff and supporters gathered today to cheer on the film during the Oscar broadcast. After its win was announced and a decorative paper ball was broken in celebration, Nishizaki Tomoko of the Hiroshima Film Commission told the Mainichi newspaper that “I’m really happy. I want to express my heartfelt congratulations to the director.”
At the nearby Yasu Community Center, where Nishijima was filmed waiting in the parking lot for his ride, staff pasted replicas of his footprints into the concrete. They did not say, however, if the impromptu memorial would, like star footprints at Hollywood’s Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, become permanent.
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