LOS ANGELES – The emotional epic from Japan “Drive My Car” won the Academy Award for best international feature film Sunday night.
Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi's film became the fifth from Japan to win the Oscar, the first since “Departures” in 2008.
The win for the three-hour journey through grief, connection and art spawned its own mini-drama when Hamaguchi took the stage at the Dolby Theatre to accept it. He paused for applause, and the show’s director then started the music to cue him to leave the stage, but he objected.
“I’d like to thank all the members of the academy for having us here,” Hamaguchi said, then thanked the distributors of the film for bringing it to the United States.
“Just a moment," he said, to laughs from the audience. He then thanked his actors, “especially Toko Miura, who drove the Saab 900 beautifully in the film," and paused again for applause. Another musical cue followed, and Hamaguchi tried to restart yet again, but he was led off stage.
Many on social media decried what they regarded as the disrespectful treatment of the director in the moment.
With four Oscar nominations, including the first best picture nomination for a Japanese film, and several early wins in awards season that made it appear to be a best picture frontrunner, no one was surprised by Sunday's win for “Drive My Car.”
But it beat a strong field of critics' favorites and crowd pleasers, including Italy’s “The Hand of God,” Denmark’s “Flee,” Bhutan’s “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom," and Norway's “The Worst Person in the World,” which some observers predicted might pull of an upset.
“Drive My Car" based on a short story from novelist Haruki Murakami, centers on a theater actor, Yûsuke Kafuku, played by Hidetoshi Nishijima, directing a multilingual production of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” Still mourning the death of his wife, Kafuku leads the cast in rehearsals where the actors sit and read their lines flatly, ingesting the language for days before acting it out.
The films of the 43-year-old Hamaguchi, who also released the anthology film “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” last year, are acclaimed around the world, but he was not widely known in Hollywood before a win for best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival last year started to bring attention to “Drive My Car."
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