Workers at a scrap-metal plant become involved in a police investigation in this multi-layered, psychological crime drama. Akimoto (Tomomitsu Adachi), spends his days driving around trying to secure scrap iron for his company. One night while out drinking with his co-worker Taniguchi (Reo Tamaoki), the two meet a saleswoman who was at their company earlier in the day and has been for a drink with the foreman Hongo (Tsutomu Takahashi). Following an incident that we don’t see much detail of, the woman disappears and suspicion falls on the company. Akimoto and Taniguchi succeed in placing the blame on Hongo, who must deal with the police enquiries, while the two men involved in the disappearance deal with their guilt over what happened.
The first half of “Drive into Night” is a sleek crime thriller, setting up several everyman characters, complete with their quotidian neuroses, extra-marital affairs, and their mundane, interminable work-life cycle. None of them appear particularly villainous, which makes what happens to the woman all the more shocking. After her disappearance, the film splits in two with one strand following Hongo and Taniguchi as they cover for their crimes and try to understand what is happening; and the other part following Akimoto as he becomes involved with a bizarre organization that claim to be able to create a new life for their followers. Akimoto’s relationship with a Filipino hostess, and entanglements with the Yakuza, suggest that the writer and director would be comfortable making a conventional crime drama, but are choosing to go off-piste and make something far more compelling and thought-provoking. The religious overtones, references to the devil, the ‘rebirth’ of Akimoto, ideas of sin and guilt, come together with the more traditional fare of hidden bodies, an underworld of clubs operated by gangsters, and cheating wives to create a film that is operating on more than one level, a knotted narrative that requires some work to untangle. The pared-back electric guitar of the detective story growls with heavy distortion when we reach moments of psychological trauma, further establishing the film as a bi-partite treatise on both the emotional and physical nature of humanity.
Dai Sako’s stylish direction, with outstanding cinematography by Yasutaka Watanabe, carries the film forward and offers a key to what is truly happening with the characters and the themes. The ultra-modern visual style matches the up-to-the-minute references to coronavirus and a sign proudly proclaiming the beginning of the Reiwa era. The mystery at the heart of the film soon becomes immaterial as we follow its effects on the characters involved, or implicated in the death of the woman. “Drive into Night” succeeds in telling several thematically and tonally diverse stories, which come together to create a fascinating if discordant whole.