WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY
Director: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi
Screenwriter: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi
Runtime: 121 mins.
Australian release date: 28 April 2022.
You gotta hand it to Japanese writer/director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi. He’s a very busy guy. Not only did he pick up the Oscar for Best International Feature at the recent Academy Awards for his film Drive My Car but he also won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival last year for Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy. That’s mighty impressive, given that both titles list 2021 as their year of production. In an interview he has said that, “To some extent, all films are fiction and documentary at the same time. I have experienced to make both [sic], and I believe there is no such thing as pure fiction or pure documentary” and, indeed, the three short love stories that comprise Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy seem to involve elements of fiction and fact. There is a hint of the work of author Haruki Murakami in these vignettes too, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given that Drive My Car was based on one of his stories. It’s that sense of never quite explaining exactly what is going on that adds a bit of mystery to the quotidian.
The three unrelated chapters, Magic (or Something Less Assuring), Door Wide Open and Once Again, all deal with the frustrations of three very different women. There’s Meiko (Kotone Furukawa), a model whose interest in an ex-lover is rekindled when she listens to a girlfriend telling her about a new love interest in her life and she recognises him as her ex; Nao (Katsuki Mori), a sexually-charged older student who sets out to seduce a successful university professor as a favour to her younger student lover; and Natsuko (Fusako Urabe), an unemployed IT programmer who attends her all-female high school’s 20th reunion and runs into an old girlfriend who she was in love with but gradually realises that this person is not the woman she thinks she is.
Hamaguchi has an ear for dialogue and the short films in Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy are very talky, usually focussing on conversations between just two protagonists; only rarely does a third talking head join in. Thus, we are privy to these very private, intimate tête-à-têtes as a fly-on-the-wall, eavesdropping on revelations that are sometimes being expressed or thought for the first time, so they’re as revelatory to the teller as they are to the listener. And yet, there’s still that nagging doubt as to whether or not we are getting the full story or are these women merely fooling themselves? Director of Photography Yukiko Iioka’s camera amplifies this sense of intimacy by sticking close to the subjects and even in wide shots we don’t see many other people, reinforcing the idea that these are very personal tales. The actors are all very good, too, delivering impassioned performances that make these sometimes bizarre, sometimes erotic and sometimes odd yarns, relatable.
The director explains that, “These three stories were conceived as the first three in a series of seven stories with the theme of ‘coincidence and imagination’ [the literal translation of the title of the film is ‘Chance and Imagination’]. Coincidence has always been a subject of interest to me. Depicting coincidence is a manner that regards rarity as the essence of the world, rather than being based on reality. By creating a work with this title, I realized how it opens up the story in unexpected ways. Please enjoy being surprised by the unexpectedness of the world.” I suspect that you most certainly will be surprised by Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.