Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy – Movie Review
Ryûsuke Hamaguchi has a way of making a movie longer than two hours feel like it is one minute long. This is the way his dialogue unfolds: the characters are never afraid of melodrama, whether they say what they think or have a secret close to their hearts. Its anthology, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, is a remarkable exhibition and exploration of his talent: three loosely related short films with themes of unrequited love, adultery and grief. In each, there is a character who plays pretend, dreaming of a situation or a life that is not theirs. Ordinary life is full of mistakes and regrets, but Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy grants each of his wives a chance for a change, a roll of the dice that gives them the opportunity to open their hearts, dumping all of their content onto the floor for strangers and former lovers.
Hamaguchi’s characters have conversations the viewer wishes they could have, those played out in front of a mirror, often kept locked up, existing only in the thoughts of dreamers. romantic quarrels and soliloquies fueled by tension; words of devotion flowing from the heart, desperate but courageous. In the film’s first short, “Magic (or Something Less Assuring)”, Meiko (Furukawa) is offered one of those chances. After admitting that her good friend’s “magical” date was with her ex-boyfriend Kazuaki (Nakajima), she rushes into his office to confront him about their atrocious past and the feelings she still harbor for him. . There is a rhythm in their conversation that is kinetic, a deep regret on both sides that hurts. They fight, they yearn, and when Meiko runs away, you yearn for Kazuaki to follow. It’s a whirlwind of heightened emotions, perfectly composed with heart-wrenching turns.
Likewise, there is an overwhelming acceptance that permeates the film’s third short, “Once Again,” a film set in an alternate future where an internet virus has forced people to revert to physical documentation: pen and paper. Here, two women do not recognize each other. Moka (Urabe) thinks she’s run into his ex-girlfriend, while Nana (Kawai) mistakes Moka for a former classmate she admired. The two turn the mistake into a promise and end up playing a simulation game that allows each to unleash their deepest feelings that have been hidden for over a decade. It’s bittersweet, the idea of wanting to see someone so intensely that you’d fool yourself into thinking that a complete stranger is your lost lover. It is easier to confess to a stranger, to expose a hidden part of yourself to loved ones, hidden thoughts for fear of judgment.
The short sandwich film, “Door Wide Open”, best explores this confessional setting, following Nao (Mori), an adulterous woman turned amateur femme fatale, whose mission is to seduce a successful professor whose recent book award-winning angered his previous student, and Nao’s lover. But his attempts at seduction are quelled when it is clear that Segawa (the teacher, played by Shibukawa) is not interested. In Nao’s rejection, she disentangles and discloses her carnal desires to the teacher, the urge she often has to give in to sexual temptation. There is a specific eroticism to “Door Wide Open”, a dangerous thrill in which Nao reveals herself to Segawa in a way so confident, devoid of sex but still energized. The door to Segawa’s office is, after all, wide open, inviting anyone who passes by to listen.
In each of Hamaguchi’s shorts, themes of cheating emerge, and in each of them he is treated as factual rather than villainous, an act that produces sadness, remorse, and grief. It’s deep in the way Hamaguchi chooses not to criticize these characters. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy overflowing with empathy, similar to his two previous films, Happy Hour and Asako I & II. Hamaguchi has a beautiful outlook on the mistakes and complex emotions that make up humanity, and his fondness for every character he brings to life makes him one of the best working storytellers today.