Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2021)

A triptych of warm-spirited stories forms Hamaguchi’s worldly treatment of the serendipitous, in what is a perceptive work about connections and human relationships.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,313

Dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi
2021 | Japan | Drama/Romance | 121 mins | 1.85:1 | Japanese
M18 (passed clean) for sexual references and some homosexual content

Cast: Fusako Urabe, Aoba Kawai, Kotone Furukawa, Ayumu Nakajima, Hyunri, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Katsuki Mori, Shouma Kai
Plot: An unexpected love triangle, a failed seduction trap and an encounter that results from a misunderstanding, told in three movements to depict three female characters and trace the trajectories between their choices and regrets.
Awards: Won Silver Bear – Jury Grand Prize & Nom. for Teddy Award (Berlinale)
International Sales: m-appeal (SG: Anticipate Pics)

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Human Connection; Life Choices
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Oldham Theatre
Spoilers: No

2021 will be remembered as the year when Ryusuke Hamaguchi became a bonafide star director. 

With two critically-acclaimed films in the bag, the Cannes Best Screenplay winner, Drive My Car, and this Berlinale Jury Grand Prize winner, the Japanese filmmaker combines the ‘talkiness’ of Hong Sang-soo, or some say, Eric Rohmer, with a narrative playfulness that is all his own. 

Intentionally refusing the standard shape and structure of a full-length feature, he gives us in Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy a triptych of stories (titled “Magic (or Something Less Assuring)”, “Door Wide Open” and “Once Again”) that are imbued with a warm spirit of human connectedness and empathy. 

It is a romantic film that romanticises chance encounters, coincidences and subversions of expectations. The least resonating segment to me is the middle one, though it is still decent and possibly the most intriguing of the lot, about a woman who attempts to seduce a professor. 

“How could you forget?”

The more finely-tuned first segment, featuring another woman who shares her burgeoning romance with a new acquaintance, explores the emotional toxicity of love and solitude with the purest of hearts. 

Having said that, most viewers would share the same opinion that the third segment is one of the most masterful pieces of work that Hamaguchi has ever done, and very rightfully placed at the last. 

The perceptive writing and characterisation come alive in the best possible way through two extraordinary performances from Fusako Urabe and Aoba Kawai, who play two classmates who had not seen each other for twenty years, or so it seems. 

Hamaguchi’s fascination with role-playing, also a feature of Drive My Car, reaches its apotheosis in the final short, its emotional power continuing to last long after the end credits. 

Grade: A-



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