By Diana Cheng
AAP Film and Arts Writer
2021 is a successful year for Japanese director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi. Emerging from a pandemic, two of his films had screened at international film festivals, both garnering accolades.
“Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy”, winner of the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at Berlin International Film Festival in March, is the first of his two acclaimed works to be released in North American cities starting October 15 in Los Angeles and New York.
Written by Hamaguchi, the film’s title in Japanese is more apt in describing the work: Coincidence and Imagination. Comprised of three independent stories, the triptych is a whimsical look at passion, desire, and the fragility of human relationships. The three episodes are amusing scenarios depicting the randomness of encounters, the plan that goes awry, and the one that works actually arises out of impromptu sparks.
In 2015, Hamaguchi distinguished himself in the film festival circuit with a 317 minute epic feature “Happy Hour”, chronicling the friendship of four young women in the seaside city of Kobe. His next feature, “Asako I & II”, was a nominee of the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2018. “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” once again confirms Hamaguchi as an astute observer of relationships and passion with a touch of gentle humor.
Episode 1, “Magic”, tells the story of a newly developed love triangle wherein Meiko (Kotone Furukawa) just found out her best friend Gumi’s (Hyunri) new beau is her ex-boyfriend, Kazu (Ayumu Nakajimi). The coincident drives Meiko to a dilemma, to reignite old flame or generously retreat. During Gumi’s recounting of her new love experience to Meiko as the two best friends chat in the backseat of a taxi, a line is particularly noteworthy, “… no physical touching… we caressed each other through our conversation.”
Conversation is the prevailing element in the film. Characters engage in lengthy dialogues in place of actions, often with a still camera capturing them facing each other just talking, performance in its bare essence, letting words caress and excite. This is especially so in Episode 2, “Door Wide Open”, when a university student Nao (Katsuki Mori), upon prodding from her disgruntled friend, tries to entrap her professor Segawa (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), seducing him with words by reading out to him an erotic passage from his own novel.
Episode 3 wraps up the film with lasting resonance. Natsuko (Fusako Urabe) attends a high school reunion hoping to find a classmate with whom she had shared a passionate past. Coincidentally she meets Ayo (Aoba Kawai) at the train station’s escalators, each going in the opposite direction. What follows is an amusing story of mistaken identity which Hamaguchi crafts with gentle, heart-stirring humor. Eventually, it is the imagination that brings closure to an unrequited longing and the beginning of a new friendship.
“Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” opens in theaters in Los Angeles and New York October 15, 2021, and subsequently in selective North American cities.