Having seen “Drive My Car” several times now, I take a lot out of this section of the film, but I can imagine how a first time viewer might find it overwhelmingly sad at this point. Most movies about grief start from a place of happiness or at least contentment. But “Drive My Car” begins in an unusual place for a film about loss … in a marriage with a great deal of love, but perhaps not much of a future.

Kafuku desperately wanted to hang on to Oto, but he knew that the relationship was making him miserable. You could hear it in his Chekhov recitals. He felt like he’d been dealt a losing hand in life, to love someone and have absolute focus on her, but to know that something was deeply wrong. The relationship so thoroughly consumed Kafuku that it made it impossible for him to form deep connections to others. This was not true for Oto, and that only made matters worse.

When she died, Kafuku was frozen in place and remained just as devoted to his late wife as he’d been when she was alive. He’s sleepwalking through this section of the film, hanging on to his routines and his modes of life without sharing with anyone why they need to be part of his ride.

But I know that this oppression will be lifted soon, so I have an advantage over first time viewers of the film. I know that two of the most beautiful, rewarding scenes I’ve ever encountered are coming up shortly. But we’re still not there, and we have to get through a little more awkward frustration first.

Watching the actors during the musical montage act without Kafuku’s clear direction, I’m reminded of the similarity between the way he treats his actors and how Oto treated him. Kafuku demands that they accept an unusual style of performance, but never explains why. We will hear him describe his method to Watari a few scenes from now, but he doesn’t clue in the actors. Why? The movie never explains his motivations, but I do find the parallel curious. Maybe it is Kafuku who avoids clarifying communications — even in the case of accepting Oto’s sexual transgressions. He would rather remain steeped in mystery and keep others frozen in that place.

We next get a tantalizing opportunity for Kafuku to open up — an invitation to drinks from Takatsuki. If you’ve read the short story, you know that the two in the book form an unusual but close relationship and find a way to relate and share experiences about Oto. And that’s coming, at least in part, a bit later in the film, but it doesn’t manifest in this scene.

They meet at Takatsuki’s hotel bar. He starts by telling Kafuku that he would look him up online to see what he was doing, and that’s how he came across this production and knew to try out for it. Kafuku asks why he’s interested in him, and he responds that he liked acting out Oto’s screenplays .. and when Kafuku says his production is nothing like those screenplays, Takatsuki declares that there are similarities, mostly involving an affection for details.

That points to an issue that seems to me to be highly Japan-centric and not immediately obvious to American viewers of this film. I’ve read some interviews with Hamaguchi where he has lamented that the younger generation of Japanese filmmakers has lost touch with the traditional Japanese film industry focus on the details of cinema. If you watch classic Japanese cinema — something by Akira Kurosawa or Yasujiro Ozu — you’re overwhelmed with what these masters pack into every frame of film. Every shot seems painted. You’re meant to pay close attention to every artifact on the screen. So when Takatsuki talks about noticing something like this, he isn’t really making a unique point about Kafuku and Oto, he’s really just identifying them as being from that old school of Japanese story creation.

Then Takatsuki says that he’s “working freelance these days,” leading Kafuku to remark that he knew this and “didn’t need to look you up to know that.” This is the first time we’re made aware of the public sex scandal that led to Takatsuki being fired (or perhaps even cancelled) off a major Japanese TV series. The ensuing conversation about it is very awkward. Kafuku chides Takatsuki for doing something so foolish. Takatsuki then tries to align himself, saying that women throw themselves at him — I’m sure it happens to you too. Kafuku responds “you only need to say no.”

The conversation only becomes more awkward from here. First Takatsuki talks about how there are certain things about women you cannot know until you have sex with them, which seems to baffle Kafuku. There seems to be an enormous gulf between the characters at this point and Takatsuki remarks how Oto must have been so happy to have a husband like him. I have to take an editorial break now to say — c’mon — really, Takatsuki? You fucked this guy’s wife and have the gall to talk about how happy their marriage must have been? How does Kafuku keep his composure amid this?

He responds “I wonder …” And he doesn’t look angry, just mournful. But Takatsuki has the gall to keep pushing it. He asks if Kafuku could tell him something about her, such as how they met, or how she wrote her screenplays … that second part really took balls, because Takatsuki knew very well that sex was an element in her screenplay creation and he’s actually asking her late husband for more details about it.

I wanted Kafuku to punch him at this point, but instead he says here’s what you’re thinking … here are two people sharing the same pain because we we’re both in love with the same woman … Takatsuki dances around the issue for a bit, but admits that he was in love, in an unrequited fashion. He notes how lovely Oto was, creating a second of alignment between them, before he then destroys that unity by saying how jealous he is of Kafuku. Kafuku seems bemused and annoyed with the comment at the same time.

From here, the scene devolves into Takatsuki getting angry at a guy at the bar who took his picture which leads to an angry confrontation with that man. This elicits a rebuke from Kafuku, and the scene dissolves from there. I must admit that I’m not really a fan of the violent-with-paparazzzi subplot introduced in this scene and punctuated later. I think it’s not well developed and a rare weak point of the film.

Kafuku leaves, and Takatsuki catches up with him as he’s getting in the car, offering an apology and another awkward moment, saying that he believes Oto brought them together, and he’s looking forward to continuing their collaboration.

So while this scene does not give us that moment of connection we’re eager for Kafuku to have, it does give him an opportunity to flash (even in a highly reserved manner) some real human emotion. He clearly hates this guy. He’s probably regretting putting him in his play. But he still, oddly, wants him around.

I have no idea why.

The Oppression