Few things feel as lazy as a decent movie. When all the loose ends fit together gracefully and not a single plot dangles, a story can feel too constructed to be real. Humans are not neat beings: we do things that don’t make sense. We believe lies and give in to unrequited love. But even if the story of a movie is entirely made up, the emotions have to feel real in order to connect with the audience. We need the kind of mess that comes with actual relationships. The Japanese Netflix import drive or die it’s about being messy. The emotions are chaotic, the short vacation is chaotic. And the gallons of blood are messy too.
Directed by Ryuichi Hiroki, drive or die was adapted for the screen from Nakamura Ching’s manga series Gunjo. In the tradition of Yuri manga storiesIt focuses on a same-sex relationship, though it’s far more complicated than a schoolgirl crush or straightforward relationship.
Rei (Kiko Mizuhara) is featured on her way to a cave-like underground nightclub. After taking a lap around the bar, she has a single handheld targeting a man sitting alone. It’s unclear what draws her to him in particular, but she gets his attention by buying him a drink and soon they are sitting in a taxi together and she is gently urging him to take her home.
Your sexual rendezvous progresses quickly and ends as abruptly as it begins. Rei maneuvers to step on him and rides him on while she reaches for a scalpel. Although he struggles, she slits his throat and stabs him with a broken wine glass, quickly killing him. She is naked, covered in blood, and utterly shocked. What could make her do something like that? drive or die spends the rest of the movie answering that question.
The answer includes Rei’s high school crush, Nanae (Honami Satô), and the long, complicated relationship between the two women that begins again after the man dies. Rei and Nanae headed out in Nanae’s convertible and as they ponder their future they immerse themselves in their memories. In contrast to the leads in Thelma & LouiseThey will not have a current relationship when they go on the run. When Nanae reappears in Rei’s life, it’s as if Rei saw a ghost. She had a happy life with a tipsy, charming friend and a successful career as a plastic surgeon. But she’s ready to give it all up after just one phone call from her past.
drive or die shows in an extraordinary way that the complications of Rei and Nanae in the past are not as simple as crushing schoolgirls or meeting cliques of mean girls. They are attracted to each other, but the gap between them is marked by homophobia (both internalized and culturally) and vastly by their class differences. Nanae grew up poor in an abusive home, and the cycles of abuse and financial struggle are never isolated from her current problems. She is as much a product of her upbringing as Rei is the product of her affluent childhood.
Ultimately, these class and sexual orientation differences are differences in power, and these ever-changing dynamics are never lost with Rei and Nanae. Your problems are not as simple as “Who’s got money?” or “Who is most accepted in our society?” It’s more about what that money or acceptance means to each of them and how they can use that gravity to manipulate one another. They came from the same city, but they are worlds apart to understand what makes the other tick.
This pushing and pulling between women is intensified when they are on the run from murder. Some vehicle problems make their trip longer Planes, trains & automobiles as Crazy Max when they switch from convertible to scooter to train to SUV. Along the way, their emotions seem to switch as frequently as their transport, but that seems to be to be expected, if not intended by these two. The mess is of their own design and they lean into it. The almost manic soundtrack that lays pop songs like “Love Fool” by The Cardigans about escaping a murder scene only adds to the tonal and emotional disturbance.
Besides death and the geysers of blood, the other important attention grabbing element of drive or die is the bold nudity. Both women undress several times in the film. Sometimes it’s for sex, sometimes for a shower, but all of the meat on the screen doesn’t feel exploitative. The nudity is used to show vulnerability and honesty. Here are two women who play with themselves and with each other, but often end up in states where they can’t hide from each other. Hiroki does drive or die sexy, if he wants it, he just understands that not all nudity is supposed to be sexy.
It may seem unfathomable to want a 142-minute movie longer, but it still feels that way drive or die relies on a lot of shorthand to get to that term. Brief encounters with Rei’s family and strangers on the trip suggest an even deeper story that is barely explored in this feature. An even slimmer cut could have eliminated possible distractions, but given its nuanced and intricate style, the even deeper immersion into this world seems more appealing than the minimalist version. drive or die hits some strange notes and shows some questionable motifs. But that only supports the world that Rei and Nanae created for themselves. It’s messy and imperfect, and that way, it feels annoyingly real.
drive or die is now streamed on Netflix.