The movie Drive My Car (2021) is admittedly about a lot more than just the car it features, an immaculate 1987 Saab 900 Turbo. Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi does an incredible job of adapting Haruki Murakami’s short story by the same name. Not with a film that’s beholden to its source material, but by letting the characters and their story grow to fill a whopping 179-minute runtime. Yeah, this is a long film, but I need you to go and watch it. Trust me; it’s worth it.
If not for the narrative, then for the drives, as much of the film’s plot moves forward via highway. This won’t come as a surprise to those who’ve read Murakami. The Japanese writer is in love with the road and with cars; his books will often feature classic Jaguar coupes, fancy Toyota saloons, and even beat-up Subaru wagons. Both the short story and film versions of Drive star a Saab 900.
The 900 Turbo belongs to a stage actor and director who loses his family to unfortunate medical circumstance. The character discovers a medical condition of his own, which renders him partially unable to drive his car. This is how — among other things — he ends up with a driver assigned to him while directing a play away from home. The unlikely pair then develop a bond over the course of many long drives and intimate conversations.
I don’t want to spoil the film, so I won’t go into the twists and turns but I’ll say that it’s a great distillation of the slow-burn and confusing plots that Murakami loves to impose on readers. I say confusing because though there are inciting incidents, climaxes and resolutions, Murakami often blurs the line between heroes and villains.
The only true hero in Drive My Car, as far as I’m concerned, is the Saab 900. The car is both a main character and setting in the story, and is critical to the discoveries the protagonists make. Indeed, there is no catharsis in the story without that car. And the movie reminds me that the road connects more than just places; it connects people.
I almost don’t want to shine a light on the film, because I know at least one other Saab and Murakami fan will be inspired to find a Saab 900 on Craigslist. That means the chances of me finding one are slim. I feel that despite pandemic pricing affecting used cars, an old quirky car from a discontinued brand should be easy to find for a low price. Maybe.
Now that Drive My Car is out, getting critical acclaim and award nominations, I’m predicting some folks are going to want to drive that car. In any case, I have my own red hatch to struggle with. The original Saab 900 Turbo in Murakami’s short story was yellow rather than red, but I’ll resist. If I’m that eager to spend money, I’ll buy the fantastic soundtrack. Then go for a drive and crank that jazz.