A series of encounters plays out in Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s playful trilogy
Dir/scr: Ryusuke Hamaguchi. Japan. 2021. 121 mins
Love is at the mercy of chance encounters, surprising connections and random acts in Wheel Of Fortune And Fantasy, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s playful trilogy of tales on the theme of “coincidence and imagination”. While it may feel less substantial than his previous films, 2015’s Happy Hour or Asoka 1 & 2 in 2018, festivals and supporters will still find considerable pleasures in his polished approach to familiar themes, finely crafted dialogue and strong performances after the film’s Berlinale Competition premiere.
Hamaguchi returns to themes he has explored in previous work, from the way life is measured in twists of fate to a sense of duality in individual lives and characters
In the first tale, ’Magic’ (or ’Something Less Assuring’), fashion model Meiko (Kotone Furukawa) is returning from a shoot, sharing a taxi with her friend Tsugumi (Hyunri). As the camera cosies in on their backseat conversation and dusk settles on the city, there is an air of Jim Jarmusch’s Night On Earth. Confidences are shared as ‘Tsu’ describes a recent, magical meeting with a man. “We caressed each other through our conversation,” she confides. She is uncertain as to whether this could lead to a beautiful romance as he has been traumatised by a past relationship that ended because of his girlfriend’s infidelity. Meiko recognises the man and the situation. How she reacts to this discovery is the basis of a tale that offers contrasting possibilities of how events unfold.
In ’Door Wide Open’, Professor Segawa (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) has won the Akutagawa Prize for his novel. Former student Sasaki (Shouma Kai) hatches an elborate plan to avenge the humiliation he once suffered at Segawa’s hands. He persuades fellow student and “friend with benefits” partner Nao (Katsuki Mori) to lure the Professor into a honey trap. The professor seems wary of any interaction with his students. He rarely makes eye contact and always insists that his study door is left wide open. The encounter between Nao and Segawa turns into an emotional cross between a counselling session and coaching that has life-changing consequences for both.
Finally, ’Once Again’ is set in a distant future where everyone has moved off-line in the wake of a devastating computer virus. Communication has reverted to post and telegrams. Nobody knows if the situation is temporary or permanent. Unemployed IT engineer Natsuko (Fusako Urabe) acts against character by attending a reunion of her high school class of 1998. She doesn’t find the woman she has been seeking but a subsequent chance encounter introduces her to Aya (Aoba Kawai). As in ’Door Wide Open’, confidences are exchanged between strangers. The two women subsequently indulge in play acting that allows them to touch on emotions they have long suppressed.
Wheel Of Fortune And Fantasy allows Hamaguchi to return to themes he has explored in previous work from the way life is measured in twists of fate to a sense of duality in individual lives and characters. Kazuaki (Ayumu Nakajima) feels like an ideal partner to Tsugumi but is despised by Meiko. Segawa blossoms into a more human figure when he meets Nao. Natsuko finds a reflection of her own yearning in Aya.
Each self-contained tale has the feel of a short story with the press notes suggesting that these are the first three in what is intended to be a collection of seven. What is striking throughout is the importance of the dialogue — Meiko and Kazuaki’s verbal skirmishes veer between screwball banter and Cassavetes soul searching whilst Segawa and Nao’s encounter is a seductive dance propelled by words. Hamaguchi is also well-served by his cast, with Kiyohiko Shibukawa impressing as the dead-eyed, stony-faced Segawa and both Fusako Urabe and Aoba Kawaii investing their two-hander with a vitality and spirit that seems entirely in keeping with Hamaguchi’s encouragement to “please enjoy being surprised by the unexpectedness of the world”.
Production companies: Neopa Inc, Fictive LLC
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Producer: Satoshi Takata
Editing: Ryusuke Hamaguchi.
Cinematography: Yukiko Ioka
Main cast: Kotone Furukawa, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Fusako Urabe, Aoba Kawai