Japanese film “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy”, which won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize when it was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival early in last year, is another excellent work from Ryusuke Hamaguchi, who has been one of the notable Japanese filmmakers during last several years. Consisting of three deceptively simple stories, the movie constantly engages us mainly thanks to Hamaguchi’s dexterous storytelling, and I can only admire how effortlessly and thoughtfully it glides from one interesting moment to another.
The first story, which is titled “Magic (or Something Less Assuring)”, opens with two young women going through a photograph shooting together outside. They are Meiko (Kotone Furukawa) and her close friend Tsugumi (Hyunri), and we subsequently watch them having a little private conversation as riding a taxi together. Tsugumi recently met some cool guy who really seemed to click well with her, so she tells her friend a lot about how wonderful it was for her to meet someone like him, and Meiko willingly listens to her friend before she eventually parts ways with her friend.
During the next scene, it turns out that there is a hidden reason why Meiko was quite attentive to what her friend was saying. I do not dare to go into details for not spoiling any of your entertainment, but I can tell you instead that this scene is as compelling as the previous scene. As usual, Hamaguchi deliberately has his performers deliver their lines in a rather flat way, but the result is actually playful at times in addition to being accompanied with considerable dramatic effects, and that is the main reason why the following ending scene works well with haunting emotional resonance.
The second story, which is titled “Door Wide Open”, catches us off guard right from the beginning. At first, we see one college professor teaching students in a small class, but then it turns out that the story is not about him or his students at all when the movie looks at what is happening in the nearby office belonging to a professor named Segawa (Kiyohiko Shibukawa). One of his students desperately is begging this professor not to fail him in one of his classes, but Segawa simply dismisses his student’s desperate plea, and that certainly makes this student become quite spiteful about Segawa.
This student happens to be having a casual affair with a young woman named Nao (Katsuki Mori), and he comes to have a little naughty idea when they spend some time together in his small residence. Segawa has recently gained more prominence thanks to a little novel of his which received some prestigious literature award, and Nao is going to approach closer to Segawa while disguising herself as a former student of his quite impressed by his novel.
All Nao has to do is going to Segawa’s office and then seducing him enough to cause a scandal to tarnish his career and reputation, but then something unexpected occurs between them. Segawa does not respond much to her in the beginning, but then Nao comes to touch something inside him once she reads a certain passage of his novel, and she also comes to reveal herself more to him than expected. The uttermost seriousness of their following conversation feels somehow amusing to us as it delves deep into the rather salacious aspect of that passage of his novel, and then we get another naughty laugh when their situation later takes an unexpected turn with some bitterness to linger around the ending.
The third story, which is titled “Once Again”, starts with some explanation on its alternative world. In 2019, the human society stopped using most of digital technologies due to some powerful computer virus spread around the whole world, but life still goes on as usual, and we see a woman named Moka (Fusako Urabe) attending her all-girls high school reunion. Because she does not remember well many of her old schoolmates, Moka cannot help but feel distant from them, so she eventually leaves without much regret, but then she comes across someone at a train station on the very next day.
I will not reveal here anything about who that person is, but I can assure you that you will be quite amused while observing what is happening between Moka and this figure. As they pull and push each other, we get to know each of them a bit by bit, and then there comes a little surprise for them as well as us. Although the mood remains as phlegmatic as before, these two characters consequently reveal more of their respective feelings to each other, and there is genuine poignancy when they later return to the train station for having a little moment of role-playing between them.
Overall, “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy”, whose original Japanese title is “Coincidence and Imagination”, is consistently satisfying in all of its three different parts, and it surely shows again that Hamaguchi is indeed a master filmmaker who can intrigues and engages us as long as he intends. While he could hold our attention for more than 5 hours in “Happy Hour” (2015), he can also easily hop from one short tale to another as shown in “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy”, and these two films and “Drive My Car” (2021), which is incidentally another superlative work of his in last year, will certainly make you have some expectation on whatever will come from him next. In short, this is something you should not miss if you admire “Happy Hour” or “Drive Your Car” as much as I do, and I guarantee that you will not be disappointed at all.