top of page
  • Benjamin May

Drive (2002) Review

Asakura is an uptight, obsessive salaryman suffering from excruciating migraines, which a doctor says are related to a trauma from his past. One morning, while idling in traffic, three masked men infiltrate Asakura's car, forcing him to be their driver. They are bank robbers, hot on the tail of the fourth member of their criminal troupe, who double-crossed them at the last minute, absconding with their loot. As Asakura chauffeurs the thieves around, it becomes clear that fate destined the four men to meet; and that karma has a surprise in store for each of them.

Written and directed by Sabu, 'Drive' is a wild crime comedy that takes viewers on a philosophical thrill-ride into the absurd. Fast-paced from the beginning, and boasting lots of weird and wonderful dialogue, Sabu's narrative operates under the familiar thesis that- whether or not we realize it- everything happens for a reason. Karma- and by extension, fate- is the most powerful factor in the lives of Asakura and the others, dictating their experiences. Sabu's characterization is such that the four main characters have individual arcs and karmic journeys to undergo within the overall narrative. Though their impact varies, these interconnected but individual tales make for entertaining viewing- and a couple even verge on the profound.

This is not to say, however, that 'Drive' doesn't suffer from flaws. The narrative loses steam in the last act, and proceedings descend into a lengthy and confusing - though beautifully photographed- action sequence, which the brilliant ending only partially redeems. Furthermore, the karmic journey the youngest of the three robbers goes on isn't as humorous or as emotionally resonant as the other two; and feels hastily concluded. Additionally, the story concerning the fourth robber and a hole in the ground isn't particularly compelling or rewarding, though it does provide some entertainment value.

'Drive' showcases the surreal and stylish cinematography of Kazuo Sato, who collaborated with Sabu on his previous film 'Monday'. As was the case with that project, Sato utilizes bright colors, dynamic angles and inventive lighting to create a vivid contrast between the mundane and the extraordinary. His inventive camera-work throughout- be it of a Buddhist punk rock concert, or a battle with ghostly Samurai- keeps proceedings feeling fresh and off-beat. Sato's cinematography enhances the eerie tone and heady atmosphere of 'Drive', making it a real visual treat.

As well as an aural one, for 'Drive' features a terrific, funky soundtrack from Toshihide Bando and Yasuhisa Murase that adds to the humour and energy of the film, as well as compounding the emotion in dramatic moments. Similar to the soundtrack of 'Monday', the film uses songs by various artists that Sabu contrasts with Sato's surreal visuals. This creates a strange, otherworldly atmosphere that matches his bizarre narrative and quirky characters, while also heightening the film's odd tone.

'Drive' finds Shin'ichi Tsutsumi starring as Asakura, delivering an understated, nuanced performance that ranks alongside his very best. Tsutsumi has starred in at least six of Sabu's films over the years, most recently in 'My Blood & Bones in a Flowing Galaxy' from 2020. Here, as Asakura, he demonstrates a boundless comedic talent, while also making the fellow wholly believable and sympathetic. Alongside him, Ren Ôsugi, Susumu Terajima and Masanobu Andô do consummate work as the robbers, neither over nor underplaying it. They give three pitch-perfect supporting performances that entertain, beguile and leave an indelible impression on the viewer.

With its fast-paced, nonlinear, genre-bending narrative full of quirky and colorful characters- as well as its eclectic soundtrack and assured visual style- 'Drive' is an utterly unique film showcasing Sabu's distinct talent and surreal vision. It is a strongly-acted and well-directed film that, despite some pacing and structural issues, deserves to be recommended as a madcap karmic joyride in every sense.


bottom of page