If you want to know what high functioning depression looks like in a middle aged man, just observe Kafuku throughout much of this film. It isn’t just that he’s in mourning, he’s staying afloat purely by sticking to routines and holding onto his obsessive need to better understand Oto.

But that isn’t apparent from appearances. He’s in charge of this show and everyone around him interprets his blankness as self control and confidence. He appears to know what he’s doing at all times. Few question him. Nobody asks if he’s ok, even as he’s showing compassion for others.

The composition of these first rehearsal scenes says so much about his state of mind. The wallpaper in the rehearsal room features prominent vertical lines, suggesting prison bars. Kafuku, to me, looks dejected throughout. Jumping into Chekhov again is not a joyous experience. He knows these lines too well, feels the power of all the disappointment and longing the script.

Kafuku does not explain why he demands actors speak slowly, enunciate and drain the emotion out of their delivery. The effect he is looking for is similar to the films of Robert Bresson, who director Hamaguchi admires. Bresson outlined his philosophy of acting in a book called “Notes on the Cinemagraph.” It includes lines like:

Production of emotion (is) determined by a resistance to emotion.
Be precise in the form, not always in the substance (if you can).
Every movement reveals us (Montaigne). But it only reveals us if it is automatic (not commanded, not willed).
Talking of automatism, this also from Montaigne: “We cannot command our hair to stand on end; nor our skin to startle for desire or fear. Our hands are often carried where we direct them not.“

So, yes, by way of Robert Bresson, I have now connected “Drive My Car” to Montaigne. I will take my appropriate bow. I don’t want to take this too far. Hamaguchi is also an admirer of John Cassavettes, whose over the top dramaturgy is the polar opposite of Bresson. But at least at this point in this film, he’s following Bresson’s lead. In an interview in Cineaste Magazine, Hamaguchi says he finds Bresson’s attunement to voices especially inspiring:

Bresson heard an immense amount of information in voices. They may appear very flat, especially the delivery of the models, to the point where some people say Bresson treated his models like dolls. Within those Bressonian models, however, there are lively variations in voice. As time passes, I become increasingly convinced that Bresson was attuned to those nuances. I want to have that kind of ear myself. 

The acting restraint complements the physical restraint of the audition room. I think what Hamaguchi is doing at this point of the film is setting up the contrast between the work of theater and the freedom of the open road. Even in a communicative art like the theater, putting together a production requires restraint and professionalism. This gives Kafuku an opportunity to hide, to burrow deeply into routine and deny his feelings.

Towards the end of rehearsal, Takatsuki and Chang seem to be rebelling a bit against the restraints, putting more speed and emotion into their delivery. But before Kafuku can intervene, an alarm goes off signaling the end of the work day.

Kafuku walks out of the building and sees Watari sitting on a stone bench, reading. He asks if she’s cold, and she replies “not at all.” The drive begins and Kafuku asks (requests?) that she wait in the car for him and not sit out in the cold. Watari says no thank you — a rare moment of defiance for Kafuku, who has become so used to getting his way. She says that she knows how much he cherishes the car, so she wouldn’t be able to relax. Kafuku replies “if you know that, then it’s no problem. Just smoke outside.” It might be a translation issue, but I’m not sure what he means. Watari then accepts the offer with a compromise — she’ll wait in the car only when it’s too cold to wait outside.

This kind of dance the two are engaging in, where both refuse gestures of kindness, is typical of depressed people. They are denying their own mental states by pretending all is fine. They seem to understand each other as they come to an agreement. The ride continues and Watari asks if he wants to listen to the tape. Kafuku agrees. These lines from the play are heard from Oto’s voice:

But allow me, as an old man, to give one word of advice before parting. Everyone … the important thing is to work. You must keep working.

What follows is a musical montage of the actors repeating the lines. We don’t hear their voices. We only see Kafuku looking on, blankly.

Kafuku’s Depression