Excitement abounds in Hiroshima, site of "Drive My Car," after Oscars

© Kyodo News

People in Hiroshima Prefecture, where Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi's film "Drive My Car" was mainly shot, celebrated Monday the film's best international feature Oscar awarded at the 94th U.S. Academy Awards.

Local residents are happy over the renewed interest and attention on Hiroshima thanks to the film, where there are many scenes of the protagonist driving or riding in his red Saab against the backdrop of the western Japan prefecture's landscape.

Tomoko Nishizaki, 56, a member of the Hiroshima Film Commission and some hotel staff watched the awards ceremony in a room of the Grand Prince Hotel Hiroshima, one of the buildings used in the film, as they gave a big round of applause.

"The director looked really happy, and it made me smile as well," said Nishizaki, who was involved in the filming location by showing the film team around the sites.

"Drive My Car" is a three-hour-long story about a widowed stage actor and director grappling over the sudden loss of his beloved wife and finding solace in a female chauffeur who exclusively drives for him as he takes on directing a stage play in Hiroshima.

Hamaguchi, who co-wrote the film with Takamasa Oe, has said in an online press conference following the Oscar nomination in February that he felt the spirit of Hiroshima in rebuilding from the damage caused by the atomic bombing.

Hiroshima city is where the first atomic bomb was dropped by the United States on Aug. 6, 1945, in the final stages of World War II.

"Hiroshima guided the story where distraught people seek to find hope," he said.

South Korea's Busan was initially where "Drive My Car" was to be filmed, but that plan fell through due to the pandemic so the filming location was switched to Japan.

When Hamaguchi and his team visited Hiroshima in September 2020 as one of the candidate sites for filming "Drive My Car, Nishizaki escorted them.

She felt the chances of having the film shot in Hiroshima were low, though, having overheard the director say it was "still premature" to film there and felt his reluctance in shooting in the A-bombed city.

But eventually, Hiroshima was chosen. During the production, she saw how the director was very careful in filming at the city's Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

"The director filmed in a way that reflects how he pays his respect to Hiroshima," Nishizaki said.

In one scene, the leading character portrayed by actor Hidetoshi Nishijima and female chauffeur played by actress Toko Miura visit a garbage incineration plant in the city.

The chauffeur explained to Nishijima's character about the so-called "axis of peace" that connects the cenotaph for atomic bomb victims and Atomic Bomb Dome, the remains of a building preserved as a memorial after the 1945 explosion, and stretches to the incineration facility.

It was just as Nishizaki had explained to Hamaguchi.

Nishizaki said traffic on a website with a digital map showing locations seen in "Drive My Car" has surged.

The film's success has also reverberated to the city's Hatchoza movie theater, which has been showing the movie since December.

Kentaro Kuramoto, the 44-year-old manager of the theater, said he is simply grateful to be able to show a movie that has been watched overseas.

The building that served as the lodging for the protagonist is located in the Mitarai district on an island in the prefecture. Mitarai was once a bustling port town and traditional buildings are preserved in its alleys.

According to the local tourism association, it has received an increasing number of inquiries. "We hope tourists not only within the country but from abroad will come and visit," an official of the association said.