The ending & meaning of Drive My Car, explained

Drive My Car

This year’s Oscar winner for best international film, Drive My Car is a story that touches on many hard aspects of life. The movie revolves around the life of Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a widowed play director and an actor, where he forms an unlikely bond with Misaki Watari (Tôko Miura), the driver of his car.

The 3-hour long movie touches on sensitive themes and gives a deep ending about the dangers of attachments with great cinematography and a strong cast.

If you haven’t watched this film, please proceed with caution as there are light spoilers ahead!

Key Points of the Film

  • The relationship between Kafuku and Misaki helps them both to let their feelings out
  • The plays represent encouragement to accept the hard truths
  • The car is a constant reminder of attachment

Kafuku sees his wife cheating with another actor after telling a bizarre story

The movie starts with Kafuku’s wife, Oto (Reika Kirishima), relating a story that she has made up. A high school girl develops feelings for a boy named Yamaga. Without expressing these feelings out loud or telling Yamaga about it, she sneaks into his house and spends time inside his room. She does this for quite some time and she takes small tokens from the boy’s room to herself. One day she leaves her underwear deep inside a drawer and on another day, she tries to masturbate on the boy’s bed when she hears footsteps approaching the door.

Drive My Car

She doesn’t reveal the rest of the story to Kafuku.

The next day, Kafuku sees Oto cheating with Takatsuki, another actor that works with Oto. However, Kafuku keeps quiet and doesn’t confront Oto. After some weeks passed, Oto says that she needs to speak with Kafuku, but he left the house for a long drive. When he came back, he saw Oto lying dead.

A distressed Kafuku joins a theatre company, unravelling past trauma 

After the passing of Oto, Kafuku joins a theatre company in a production of the play ‘Uncle Vanya’, by Anton Chekov. Kafuku is hired as the director, and he recruits Takatsuki to play the role of Vanya. The producers also appoint Misaki as the personal chauffeur to Kafuku.

After a day of rehearsals, Takatsuki reveals that Oto had completed the ending to the story she had relayed to Kafuku:

The footsteps the girl heard was from a burglar. The burglar seen her half-naked and had attempted to rape her. The girl kills the burglar and runs away from the house making up her mind to tell Yamaga about this incident and beg for his forgiveness. However, Yamaga appears to be completely normal the next day at school, meaning someone had cleared the body before he found out. The girl runs to the house only to see the key missing from the hiding place with a camera mounted at the door. She then screams to the camera saying, “I killed him,” ending the story. 

Kafuku is visibly shaken by this unheard ending and realises that Oto is the girl in the play whereas Kafuku becomes the unknown person who cleaned up the dead body. 

Takatsuki is later arrested for beating and killing a man who took pictures of him without his consent. 

Kafuku forms a strong bond with Misaki 

After hearing news about Takatsuki’s arrest, Kafuku asks Misaki to take him anywhere that’s peaceful. She takes him to her house which had been destroyed by a landslide. During this long journey, she tells the story of how she escaped from a landslide and kept looking at the house when another landslide happened and killed her mother. She also tells Kafuku that she takes the blame for killing his mother in the same way Kafuku takes the blame for Oto’s death.

“Those who survive keep thinking about the dead in one way or another that will continue. You and I must keep living like that. We must keep on living,” Kafuku says while hugging Misaki, both getting closure from their past.

Kafuku the plays the role of Vanya in the play and is greeted by a standing ovation at the end. 

Kafuku gives up his car and the resentment he has for his wife

The ending of the film sees Kafuku giving his red Saab 900 to Misaki where the car turns out to be a constant reminder of attachment throughout the film. The film ends with Misaki getting groceries and putting them in the car. She had also gotten a dog and they both drive through an empty road. 

Drive My Car Misaki ending

Speaking about the importance of the car, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, the director of the film told the Los Angeles Times:

“For him (Kafuku) the inside of the car is a very comfortable environment, and it was a comfortable space even before the death of the wife. … It has become a space where he feels that he can always be with his wife. So even though it’s sort of temporary, that place gives him comfort. Then the audience realizes that’s something that he needs to let go but struggles to,”

Kafuku had finally given up his car letting go the deep resentment he had felt for his wife. 

Drive My Car gives a deep insight into deep matters of life. The ending of the movie teaches the absence of pure black and white in relationships and shows the power of acceptance and letting things go. The movie had received high praises from critics.