A red car is giving new hopes to residents of the Hokkaido town. Not any red car, but a lipstick red Saab 900 Aero vintage coupeーthe real star of Drive My Car.

Agnes Tandler (Sapporo), for JAPAN Forward

Akabira, Hokkaido - location for Hokkaido scenes in Academy Award winner Drive My Car. (Photo: Agnes Tandler) | Courtesy of © JAPAN Forward

No red car is cruising around the corner. In fact, there is no car in sight on Akabira´s wide roads on a Saturday afternoon.

The former mining town in central Hokkaido has seen better days. The last coal mine closed in 1994, the population has shrunk to about 10,000, houses stand empty, while a handful of shops struggle to survive.

Recently, however, the Oscar winning movie Drive My Car is giving the small town a small piece of world fame.

A young couple is taking a stroll on the street in front of the oversized Akabira train station building where a single taxi is waiting for customers. They seem genuinely excited to be in the back of beyond, and eagerly take pictures of the scenery. Her pretty dress and his fashionable jacket stand out against the empty, quiet space that marks the city center.

Akabira is as far from Oscar glory as one can imagine. “It’s a nothing place,” says Misaki Watari (Toko Miura), the young chauffeur in the movie when the owner of the red Saab, Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), asks her to drive him from Hiroshima to her childhood home in Hokkaido. It’s a Japanese road movie that is three hours long and has no car chase.

The unlikely pair eventually set out, revealing some dark personal secrets on the way. Sharing a tender moment on a snowy slope in Akabira, they both confront ghosts of their past.

Akabira, Hokkaido (Photo by Agnes Tandler) | Courtesy of © JAPAN Forward

Movie poster and news clippings in the Akabira train station (Photo: Agnes Tandler) | Courtesy of © JAPAN Forward

Inside Akabira train station some posters and magazine clippings about the movie are testimony to the new found local pride. Little does it matter that the movie scenes of the town are not a strong incentive to visit Akabira. They picture the two characters in a harsh, unforgiving landscape that reflects their loneliness and mental struggle.

In fact, Akabira looks a bit like Finland in movies by Aki Kaurismäki, where actors rarely smile, smoke constantly and travel through frozen landscapes – only with more sunlight.


By - grape Japan editorial staff.