Before getting back in the red Saab and moving the plot along farther, I want to spend some time on the character who will not return to the story, but remains a presence through her voice.

Oto’s recording of “Uncle Vanya” for Kafuku was, on one level, an extremely thoughtful gift. Imagine how much time it must have taken for her to read all of these parts with the correct tone to assist his performance, leaving just the right space for his lines in between. I would be deeply touched if someone did something like that for me.

But on the first viewing of “Drive My Car,” it’s impossible to treat Oto with that level of compassion. We are naturally judgmental of the cheaters in relationships and eager to defend the transgressed upon. It takes time with this movie, beyond it’s three hour run time, to appreciate Oto, even if we never fully understand her.

Every time I rewatch this movie now, however, I feel deep empathy for Oto. Her strangeness is quite beautful. It doesn’t hurt that she — as played by Reika Kirishima — is physically attractive. But her beauty isn’t just surface level, the character has unusual depth and ability to surprise us.

For me, two factors heavily mitigate the extramarital sex she engages in during the scenes we watch and (apparently quite frequently) off screen. One is that Oto remains in deep mourning over the loss of her daughter. There’s something about the character that just seems dead inside, and I can only imagine how awful it must feel to lose a child.

The other mitigating factor is that sex for Oto is essential to her creative process. Sex is a literal and figurative creative act … but for Oto, a creates a trance like state where she imagines the stories that make her career possible. I don’t know if any human has ever had this bizarre condition, but I can imagine that it would be the most addictive thing on earth for someone with a drive to create.

Finally, I also have to admit that I‘m attracted to the mystery of her. And I suspect Kafuku is as well. So many of the later scenes in the film feel like suppressed arguments between the couple played out in the context of Chekhov’s beautiful play. Mystery is infuriating in that way, especially for someone whose life is all about honest personal expression.

I think, also, that those who devote their lives to expression need a mysterious presence in their lives to balance what they do. To be expressive, you need to lack an emotional dimmer switch. You either choose to share – fully and honestly — or say nothing.

The mysterious are often the same way, they just err to the side of nothing most of the time. So the expressive envy them, and perhaps the mysterious are in turn are drawn to the expressive because they wish to let it all out at times as well. They just, for whatever reason, can’t let themselves be that vulnerable. They have to retreat into actions that seem disconnected, with words left unsaid.

The Specter of Oto