Drive Into Night (2022)


There is always new to discover when watching Japanese cinema, be it hidden gems from the past or indie-narratives that dare to be different. With Drive Into Night, Sako Dai (Still Paradise (2005), Running on Empty (2010), and Kyoukaishi (2018)) adds another inventive narrative to the rich treasure trove of Japanese films. Yet, can one be merely being inventive deliver a good filmic experience?


Akimoto (Tomomitsu Adachi), the sales representative of Musashino Metal Works, struggles to get new contracts for the company despite his efforts. Due to his ongoing failure, Hongo (Tsutomu Takahashi) from management continually harasses him, framing him to others, guests especially, to be lazy and a good-for-nothing.

One night, at a local bar, Wataru Taniguchi (Reo Tamaoki), one of his colleagues, suddenly asks Akimoto what’s fun about being alive. He cannot answer. Taniguchi, for his part, also has no answer to this question. Be mere chance, they encounter Risa (Ran Tamai), a woman who visited the company earlier that day. Yet, this encounter does not go as planned.

Drive Into Night (2022) by Sako Dai

Drive Into Night is a narrative that explores, via the trajectory of its protagonist, the subjective consequences of the impoverishment of the social bond in the contemporary social field. A subject, caught within a network of a-subjective connections, cannot but struggle to find some enjoyment and a desire to direct his life. Within him, the hollow emptiness of the societal field is reverberated.  

Akimoto and Taniguchi’s failure to provide an answer to the question of what’s fun about being alive echoes, by highlighting the mundane empty repetition that marks their daily life, that neither of them have a desire to guide their signifiers and their comportment. For Taniguchi, such emptiness also marks his marital relationship – there are little to no signifiers exchanged between them and there is no shared fantasy of harmony that can cover up each other’s radical Otherness. It thus comes as no surprise that Taniguchi’s wife (Nanaha) is cheating on him with his best friend.

How can we read Taniguchi’s violent sexual approach of Risa? One could argue that he tries to animate his body devoid of any desire with a shot of pleasure. In other words, he does not forcefully kiss her out of a sudden desire, but in search for a desire. Rather than simply attaining pleasure by forcefully taking it, he violently asks the female Other to breathe life into his fantasy of being phallic, of being desirable for the other.

Drive Into Night (2022) by Sako Dai

And what about Akimoto’s act of violence following his discovery of Risa’s lie, of Risa’s empty signifiers of kindness? This act can only be understood as signalling an unconscious desire – as an act of desire. More specifically, the violent act underlines, both for Akimoto as well as for the spectator, that behind the emptiness that marks his existence lies a desire to desire or to be desired (Narra-note 1). Deep within him, a thirst for the Other’s loving kindness flows.  

Akimoto’s encounter with New life designer Yuko Minamoto (Shohei Uno), the leader of a cult-like organisation, has a profound effect on our protagonist. Yet, how can we rhyme Minamoto’s statement that what boils in Akimoto is anger – anger eats you up inside without you realizing, with our understanding that what boils within him is unconscious desire? Both are mediated by the ongoing frustration that he is been subjected to. As Minamoto has never always been able to attain a sexual object or receive an honest kind word from the female Other, he repressed his desire and foregone the opportunity to sublimate the unreleased quantum of eros that festers within his body. His act of violence is thus only an act of desire in so far it is a sudden return of what has been repressed for so long.

While the exercises of releasing anger and frustration at the cult-like organisation allow for some kind of abreaction, they remain highly problematic. Rather than guiding the subject to question his role in organizing his own misery, Minamoto creates community and engenders feelings of belonging by inviting the subject to imaginarily demonize his Other and the societal field.

Drive Into Night (2022) by Sako Dai

Some spectators might raise some eyebrows at certain convenient turns and some nearly comical moments in the narrative. These turns betray that, for Dai, the message of his narrative was more important than ensuring that every event made sense. For instance, while Dai explains Akimoto’s arrival New Life Design Laboratory via the device of his faltering mental state, it is evident that he needs to end up there for narrative’s purposes. Some of the moments in the cult border on the ridiculous, but it is via this nearly comical flavour that Dai succeeds in reverberating the superficiality of the master’s signifiers as well as the profound effect his words have on the frail neurotic and thus gullible subject – one in search for a master (Narra-note 2).

The composition of Drive Into Night offers a balanced mix of static, subtly shaky dynamic moments and more fluid camera movement. While the static nature of certain shots is generally utilized to frame conversations, it is also often used to introduce a visual pleasing moment within the narrative. The crude dynamic moments subtly reverberate the realism of the fictional narrative – the shakiness, due to its similarity to documentary film, feeds the feeling that the story could truly happen, and to subtle reverberate the emotional turmoil of certain characters. The more fluid dynamic moments, on the other hand, often combine the compositional beauty that marks some static moments while retaining the realistic tinge that the shakiness infuses into Dai’s narrative.

Drive Into Night is a narrative that laments the ongoing pauperization of the social bond. By evoking the crumbling of the symbolic Other and its negative effects on relational dynamics, Dai succeeds in highlighting the seductive power of fake masters and the ease by which the subject flees in an imaginary and deceptive cocoon of belonging. Yet, while Dai’s societal critique is successfully formulated within his narrative, some spectators will stumble over the somewhat too-convenient and ‘forced’ turns Dai’s story takes (General-note 1).  


Narra-note 1: The second flash of violence follows a different dynamic, an imaginary one. This violent act is born from the destruction of the imaginary cocoon created by the cult-leader, the evaporation of the atmosphere of friendliness/kindness.

Narra-note 2: The emphasis on lovingly accepting the subject as he or she is betrays the master’s need to keep the subject in a continues state of dependency.His aim is not to change the subject – something Akimoto vocalizes after being excommunicated.  

General-note 1: For those spectators falling over the strange forced turns of the narrative, the score would be まずまず映画。


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