A lot of folks reacting to this morning’s Oscar announcements haven’t yet paid attention to this significant landmark; Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car is the very first Japanese film in Oscar history to be nominated for Best Picture. Yes, it’s surprising. Yes, it’s a big deal. And no, Clint Eastwood’s Letters From Iwo Jima, despite being mostly in Japanese, doesn’t count, as it was entirely produced in the U.S.
Based on a short story of the same name by Haruki Murakami, the plot of Drive My Car follows Hidetoshi Nishijima as Yūsuke Kafuku, a well-known theater actor and director who, in the two years since his wife’s passing, struggles with his career, relationships, mortality, and the role of art itself.
With a 98% Certified Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s clear this film has, as they say, ‘Universal Acclaim,’ so its many festival award nominations and wins came as no surprise. Its award run took off with Best Screenplay at Cannes, then accelerated with Best Picture wins from the New York Film Critics Circle, the Boston Society of Film Critics, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, as well as the award for Best Motion Picture – Non-English Language at the Golden Globes.
Drive my Car also scored in the Best International Feature and Best Adapted Screenplay categories, and its Best Director nod makes Hamaguchi only the third-ever directorial nominee from Japan. Notably, the film’s four total nominations resulted in equaling a record with another Academy-lauded Japanese film, Akira Kurosawa’s Ran (1985), which went on to win for Costume Design.
With the Korean black comedy Parasite taking Best Picture in 2019, much to the loud consternation of the world’s most horrible people, it seems now that whatever faults the Academy may have, not spreading its net internationally isn’t one of them. At the least, they’ve started to take international films as seriously as American-made ones, when they’re good enough. Given this sort of international consideration, it could become a rare year when an American film “should” win Best Picture, and 2022 may be the very year that Drive My Car pulls the upset.