Japanese Film Festival 2021 Review: ‘Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy’4 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
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.
Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Cast: Kotone Furukawa, Katsuki Mori, Fusako Urabe, Aoba Kawai, Ayumu Nakajima, Hyunri, Shouma Kai, Kiyohiko Shibukawa
Runtime: 121 minutes
In Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, Ryusuke Hamaguchi daisy-chains three short stories interconnected by the magic of coincidences and connections only made possible from a comfortable distance. The Japanese auteur continues to charm audiences worldwide with his magnificent ability to essentialise panoramic emotions of love, intimacy and loneliness.
The film features three episodes of about 40 minutes each. Episode 1: Magic (or Something Less Assuring) begins with Tsugumi (Hyunri) sharing with her best friend Meiko (Furukawa Kotone) about meeting a suave gentleman she shares an inexplicably deep connection with. Despite putting on an encouraging front, Meiko soon realises that Tsugumi has fallen for her ex-boyfriend Kazuaki (Ayumu Nakajima). Torn asunder between jealousy and wanting the best for her friend, Meiko pays Kazuaki an unannounced visit.
Episode 2: Door Wide Open follows a honey trap scheme. University student Sasaki (Shouma Kai) convinces her friend-with-benefits and housewife Nao (Mori Katsuki) to lure their accomplished professor Segawa (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) into a scandalous affair as revenge for tanking his grade.
In a parallel world where a computer virus has revealed everybody’s secrets on the Internet, Episode 3: Once Again sees Natsuko (Urabe Fusako) dropping by her old home town for a high school reunion. She hopes to find some closure with her high school lover Nana and is overjoyed to run into her on the way home — or at least that is who Natsuko assumes the stranger to be.
What is truly magical about Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is how compelling the film is despite essentially only consisting of a handful of conversations. There are no camera tricks nor any evocative backdrops. There are only duets amongst confused and conflicted individuals. Mumblecore has never felt this genuine and charming before, completely avoiding the pitfalls of self-indulgence Western entries tend to stumble into.
Instead, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy moves with urgency. Every character eventually recognises that their predicaments and encounters with coincidence might only come around once in a lifetime. They savour these opportunities not necessarily for the betterment of themselves but for the sake of soaking in all the wild mess of emotions life could provide.
Dialogues rarely get heated either, with characters keeping to stoic and soft-spoken tones despite the storms brewing within. Despair, empathy and closure are all conveyed in a subdued often roundabout manner but still ultimately brims with sincerity thanks to sharp writing and generous performances.
The magic of coincidences aside, the film’s three stories are also connected by the theme of distance. Instead of being a force of separation, it is exactly because of distance that leads to cherished connections for the characters.
Kazuaki and Meiko’s messy breakup stir up a deep well of hurt yet it is also their chance encounter after being long separated that gives them the strength to move on. Segawa keeps his office’s door open to prevent damaging accusations, and it’s only when Nao reveals her intentions to seduce him that the two of them start truly opening up. Only amongst strangers and through roleplay is Natsuko able to resolve the decades-long heartache she has held onto.
More than simply a counter-point to more conventional forms of connection, it’s through this angle that keeps the conversations ever-so-engaging. The audience, too, are strangers and are given equal opportunities as the characters to understand and form a snapshot of each other’s past and present.
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy’s uncomplicated approach to detailing complicated lives brings the same gentle warmth as tender conversations, invoking characters and stories that will live on far beyond its credits.
The winner of the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival 2021 made its Southeast Premiere at Singapore’s Japanese Film Festival 2021 to three sold-out screenings.
The Japanese Film Festival 2021 will continue its run till 31 October. Don’t miss out on all the spectacular films its lineup has in store. This weekend, the festival will host a special opportunity to speak with Singaporean-in-Japan filmmaker Liao Jiekai on 23 October, and its Female Perspective sidebar featuring new works from Japan’s most respected filmmakers exploring the many facets of the female experience in modern Japan.
Offering a mix of virtual and physical screenings, check out the festival’s complete schedule here.