Sunday Drive (1998) is an interesting, decidedly low key film by writer Hisashi Saito (Hideo Nakata's Chaos, Shinya Tsukamoto's Tokyo Fist). If you are looking for action- this isn't your film. If you are looking for high dramatics- this isn't your film. But, if you are a fan of minimal, unfussy camera work and editing, and a purposeful reveal of emotions of the Jim Jarmusch, Takeshi Kitano, Abbas Kiarostami, or Tsai Ming Ling vein, then you have found your movie.
The story concerns some video store employees. Manager Okamura (Shinya Tsukamoto) is a seemingly normal, low key guy. Co-workers Yui (Maiko Tadano) and Shinji are dating. On the eve of a weekend camping getaway, Shinji tells Okamura (actually they always refer to him as "Manager" until the end of the film) that he cheated on Yui. Shinji insists it didnt mean anything and asks that Okamura keep it secret. Okamura excuses himself to go make a beer run and when he exits the shop he sees that Yui is outside. One glance tells him she is upset. He asks her if she overheard. She says, "Yes."
The scene abruptly cuts to Shinji lying on the video store room floor. A pool of blood pools underneath his head.
Okamura and Yui leave together, picking up the camper van, and set out on the road. They are two people lost in the moment. "I'm with you... right now." They could run off, become a couple, escape to Boliva, or they could just keep driving down the road until they are caught. The two manage to connect with one another romantically, and for a time pick up a happenstance surrogate daughter, a mute, cheery young girl who appears to have wandered away from her family and is all too keen to join them. At times, Shinji is out of their minds, they manage to be carefree, but the consequences they will have to face are looming right around the corner.
We don't find out who conked Shinji right away. Okamura cops to the deed, though the film deftly plays with this by insinuating that he may be taking responsibility so Yui will warm to him. "I'll say I did it." Even this little bit of info, dropped so subtlety, leads to a further scene, a guilty pebble in the road of Yui and Okamura. It is that kind of film, one of small details and subdued action that when examined closely reveal little insights about the human condition and the struggle of opening yourself up emotionally to another person. Far more comic and romantic than you would think for a film about tow people bonding over a murderous twist of fate.
With a few exceptions, the film is told in long, single camera takes lasting anywhere from five to ten minutes. It is a real love it or hate it approach. I happen to like it, or, should I say, in this case, it works. Leaving in the spaces, stripping technique to its barest essentials, gives a lot of room for the actors to breathe and create a general atmosphere that reflects the natural rhythm of humdrum life.
One scene in particular showcases how the minimalism enhances the interplay between the actors. One shot- Yui and Okamura are in the back of the camper. It is dark, late at night, and they have just had sex for the first time. Yui asks Okamura when was the last time he had sex. He shyly dances around the question, slowing answering when but
withholding the details. Awkward pauses and his increased nervousness divulge that his shyness is something else. You (and Yui) begin to suspect that he is hiding something. At a snails pace, Yui coaxes him to reveal what he was reluctant to tell. Not every film needs to follow the Eisenstein montage and close-up theory. Sure, the scene could have been filmed in a standard way, a wide master shot, intercut with close ups for each actor, keying in on dramatic moments, but somehow, the single wide take really lets you see the interplay, the performance, much clearer.
The DVD: Pathfinder.
Full screen. Standard. Apparently, by the looks of things, it was shot on video. Really all the minus spots deal with the nature of the format and low budget production. Night/low light scenes are especially murky and grainy. Pic isn't the clearest, crispest, most detailed, but is still acceptable.
2.0 Japanese Stereo with optional English subtitles. Again, given the nature of the film, no dynamic by any means but certainly acceptable. I noticed two or three grammatical errors in the subtitles ("I have make call.") but found them otherwise well-timed and translated.
Trailer. --- Still Gallery. --- Film Notes.
It is a very simple, gentle film about strange fate, consequences, and an odd connection between two people. While I think the films simplicity is its reward, I recognize that it is so unfettered, repeat viewings is not one of its stronger suits. Pathfinder presents Sunday Drive with a basic disc. I'll lean towards a rental.