• Interviews

A Conversation with Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Writer-Director of Golden Globe Winner “Drive My Car”

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (born December 16, 1978, in Kanagawa, Japan) is a Japanese film director and screenwriter. He is best known for the film “Drive My Car” (2021), which has been nominated for a number of prestigious film awards, including four Academy Awards, and has just recently won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Non-English Language. Prior to this, Hamaguchi’s film “The Wheels of Fortune” was highly acclaimed at Berlinale 2021 and won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize.

Mr. Hamaguchi was back again at Berlinale 2022 as one of the Jury Members, where we interviewed this already prominent, but still promising young director.

How does it feel to be a jury member and not a contender at Berlinale?

It’s a great honor for me. All of the members of the jury are wonderful, for example, Mr. M. Night Shyamalan. All of them are highly acknowledged directors and producers. I’m very proud to be a member of the team. This is a very new experience for me in that I’m not a contender at the film festival, but a member of the jury. However, the Berlin International Film Festival has helped me considerably in my career, so I would also like to give other aspiring directors a chance.

You have watched around 18 films in competition this year. What do you think in general about the 2022 Berlinale program? Do you think there is any underlying theme?

First of all, I would say the festival is very diverse, with a wide range of movies being presented in terms of gender, gender point of view, region and aesthetics. Although at first glance, it may seem that there is no underlying theme, I think there is an underlying universal theme for the festival, because there were a lot of films depicting the experience of loss and pain and how people overcome it, accept it, and live with it, which also reflects our current society.

Congratulations on your Golden Globe win, and good luck with the Oscar nominations. Do you think that winning such prestigious awards and being presented with new opportunities is liberating or binding in terms of your directing?

To be honest, I don’t really know, because this is a totally new experience for me, and I don’t know how it’s going to turn out for me in the future. It can be liberating, but it can also be a binding experience. However, I can’t really imagine it because I am going forward in a new way.

If we talk about independent and art house film these days, the world is changing and it’s very difficult to hold someone’s attention for more than two hours because of online content and the internet. How does the fast pace of today’s world influence your own perception of cinema as art?

I don’t think that this has really changed very much. I have always liked to watch a lot. I used to watch, and I still like to watch, classical movies and usually, they have a length of about two hours. This is, I think, the limit for holding an audience’s attention, two hours. You have to concentrate to watch a movie, to get into the images and the sound that it reflects, and you have to digest it. I think that movies have a profound impact on audiences. They can even change people’s lives. I’m convinced that film has the ability to do that. That’s why it is an experience. A movie is an experience that you go through as an audience. I want to create movies that also generate this kind of experience. So, this is the core. I don’t think that we have to adjust to new media by shortening the length of a movie but, because of the times we live in, it is important to deliver a special experience.

What attributes do you feel are essential in order for you to work successfully? For example, environment, music, atmosphere. How do you put yourself into creative mode?

I would say that the environment is not that crucial for me, because if I can’t write a script or a screenplay, then it’s just not possible, even if I listen to beautiful music. I think it is the process behind that. Before I start to write a screenplay or script, it is the input that I get from maybe music or literature, or many other different types of input, which enables me to write the screenplay. So that is the most essential thing for me in creating a story.

I heard that writer, Haruki Murakami, watched Drive My Car. In one interview, he said he was not sure which parts had come from his original work and which hadn’t. How would you feel if he didn’t like the film?

You can’t actually do anything if someone doesn’t like your movie because it’s about tastes. Of course, I want the author to like my movie, but there are certain tastes, and you can’t really change that because I also have my own tastes as well. If Mr. Murakami had said he didn’t like my movie, I’d be ashamed, but still, we couldn’t change anything about that. But as you say, he wrote this wonderful message and he said that he liked it, so I take it as a compliment that I have been able to recreate his view of the world into a movie.


There is a quote by Anton Chekhov from Uncle Vanya: “Everything should be first-rate in a person, his face, clothes, soul, and thoughts.” Do you agree with that?

I don’t agree with him because frankly, I think it is most important that the soul of a person is beautiful as it then resonates or reflects on appearance as well. As you can see, I’m not good-looking, and it’s not easy to change your appearance, but it’s also not easy to change the state of your soul as well. So, I think it’s more important to work on your inner self rather than on appearance because that will also automatically appear on the outside.

Are you a good driver yourself?

Oh, I’m not a good driver at all!

What is your vision regarding the future of Asian cinema? Do you foresee any particular changes, trends, or challenges?

I really appreciate your question, but I have to say that only a year ago, I was just an independent filmmaker, so I do not think that I’m in any position to say anything about the future of Asian movies or about trends and challenges in Asian movies. I’m exploring new films from different regions in Asia, and I have had the chance to get to know them. But what I would say is that those filmmakers should be confident in what they are doing, and they should just pursue their own way, because this will eventually lead to unforeseen success, the same as I experienced myself. They don’t really need to change anything, but just pursue their own way and do whatever they believe in. This will then eventually be conveyed to audiences as well.