With his latest feature Drive My Car, Ryusuke Hamaguchi looked to do justice to Haruki Murakami’s short story of the same name from the internationally acclaimed author ‘s 2014 collection, Men Without Women.

“I encountered this about eight years ago, thanks to an acquaintance of mine,” said the film’s co-writer and director via an interpreter during Deadline’s Contenders Film: International awards-season event. “They found it quite interesting and told me that it might be something that would interest me, as well, and it actually was very close to a lot of the themes that I deal with in my work.”

Co-written with Takamasa Oe, Drive My Car centers on Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a stage actor and director happily married to his playwright wife, who one day abruptly disappears.

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Even if he felt a strong connection to Murakami’s material, Hamaguchi knew that he’d have to take some liberties with it, given that his story was only around 50 pages long. To flesh it out for the screen, he would draw on elements from other stories in the writer’s collection, including “Scheherazade.”

Remarkably, Japan’s official Oscar entry, from Sideshow and Janus Films, is just one of two films Hamaguchi completed in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, the other being the romantic drama Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy. The outbreak of the pandemic shuttered production on Drive My Car for a period of eight months, and while Hamaguchi says he found it “hard” to balance both projects amidst the circumstances, he notes that they weren’t “all bad” in the end, given the added time they gave him to meditate on each.

Drive My Car had its world premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it won the award for Best Screenplay, along with the FIPRESCI Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury. The film opens in New York on November 24 and in L.A. on December 3 before expanding nationwide.

Check back Monday for the panel video.

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