I wrote yesterday that Hamaguchi made scores of adaptation decisions in bringing “Drive My Car” to the screen and never seemed to make a wrong choice. Today I’m going to ponder one big decision he made and question if, while not exactly getting it wrong, he might have gone too far.

As noted in the first essay, Hamaguchi chose to begin his film in a different spot and with a different tone than Murakami did in the short story. In the original story, Murakami introduces Kafuku with a bias about women that he holds, opening him up to criticism right from the start.

In the movie, Hamaguchi makes the wise choice to build sympathy and understanding for his protagonist. But it could be argued that the director took it too far and made Kafuku into too saintly a character. What made me wonder if this might be the case was watching another Hamaguchi film ”Asako I & II” yesterday and noticing the parallels between Ryohei (one of the male leads in that film) and Kafuku. In ”Asako,” it makes complete sense for Ryohei to seem too good to be true … he’s a literal contrast to another character named Baku, played by the same actor as his bad boy equivalent.

I’ve heard Hamaguchi explain how the adaptation process for “Drive My Car” began while filming “Asako I & II” (he even used actors from that movie to workshop some scenes) and it makes sense to me that he would view these characters as similar. But there’s a somewhat sinister edge to the Kafuku in Murakami’s “Drive My Car” that never appears in the film adaptation. Does the story miss the version of this character who lost his license because of drunk driving and who ideates destroying the life of a man who had an affair with his late wife?

Perhaps what the story loses in justifiable hurt and rage it gains by exposing Kafuku’s cowardice, something that’s embarrassingly displayed in the next scene. But before I get to it (and yes, I am delaying a bit, because this is a painful section of the movie), I want to point out that Hamaguchi did not just draw on the story “Drive My Car” in this adaptation, he took from several stories in the “Men Without Women” short story collection. That story Oto began telling at the story’s beginning? That comes straight from ”Scheherazade.”

And the scenario of this scene sort of comes from the story ”Kino.” In both scenes, a husband walks in on his wife having sex with another man. Except in “Kino,” the husband picks up a bag of dirty laundry, leaves the house and never comes back.

Kafuku arrives home from his canceled fight and hears both Mozart’s “Rondo in D Major, K. 485” as performed by Yadim Chaimovich playing on the stereo and sound of heavy physical exertion coming from Oto. It doesn’t necessarily sound like her having sex — she could be in the middle of some kind of very strenuous workout. But Kafuku treads cautiously. Now remember the placement of the mirror in the last scene — Kafuku can see clearly onto the couch without ever stepping foot into the living room.

When he gets within range of the mirror, he sees Oto riding on top of a man, straddled mid-couch, with his head to the back of us. Oto is facing the mirror, but has her eyes closed, her hands in the man’s hair. She almost seems in a trance (which matches the description of the woman in the story “Scheherazade,” who also needs sex to recall details from her stories,) and has it compulsively as a creative act.

Kafuku watches for about 10 seconds, then quietly exits the apartment. I’m amazed he can watch even that long. While the scene is erotic, I’ve wanted to look away every time I’ve seen the film, not out of prudishness, but sadness over this scene’s impact. There’s no confrontation here, no evidence left that Kafuku witnessed anything. He goes to pick up his car and still looks remarkably calm. But he’s unable to light the cigarette he‘s holding, which is the only evidence of how shaken up he is.

We next see him at an airport hotel — now taking advantage of the free hotel the event organizers had promised — and he lights a cigarette with ease, so he’s apparently composed himself. He is at his computer, apparently waiting for a video call from Oto, which happens right away, but he allows it to ring several times before picking up.

The conversation is banal, composed. It makes you wonder just how often she engages in activity like this but remains comfortable with the deception. Kafuku throws in his own deception this time — pretending that he is in Vladivostok. Why not — one airport hotel looks exactly like another. It’s important to remember here that they are both actors and are therefore highly skilled at regulating their emotion for a scene.

The action now skips ahead a week. Kafuku is driving back from the airport into Tokyo. He’s working through his “Uncle Vanya“ lines and recites this:

For 25 years, he’s pretended to be something he’s not. Look at that swagger, acting like he’s some kind of lord.

Oto’s voice comes on now: “You envy him, don’t you?” Kafuku continues:

Yes I do. I envy him a lot. Such good luck with women! Don Juan himself couldn’t have had more experience. His first wife, who was my sister —

At this point we hear a car horn blaring down and then see that Kafuku has smashed into a car that apparently had the right of way. We will soon learn that Kafuku has issues with his peripheral vision that might have played a role. But given the lines he is rehearsing and the trauma he just lived through, it seems just as likely that his anguish distracted him.

The Reveal