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First Look Review - WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy review
Anthology of three tales revolving around chance encounters.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi

Starring: Kotone Furukawa, Ayumu Nakajima, Hyunri, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Katsuki Mori, Shouma Kai, Fusako Urabe, Aoba Kawai

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy poster

If you're lucky, an anthology film will deliver one good segment out of its collection of three, four or more individual stories. Writer/director Ryusuke Hamaguchi's Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is the rare portmanteau drama that keeps you sufficiently gripped through each of its segments. If this were a short story collection it would be a page turner.

The three segments are really short films in their own right. They're connected by a thin tissue of chance encounters and characters learning something about themselves through these moments of coincidence.

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy review

The first story, 'Magic (Or Something less Assuring)', begins with a lengthy cab ride shared by young model Meiko (Kotone Furukawa) and her art director friend Gumi (Hyunri Lee). The latter tells of her perfect new boyfriend, blathering on endlessly about how dreamy he is and how she wanted to sleep with him on the first date but couldn't bring herself to do such a thing. Meiko pieces together enough clues to realise Gumi has fallen for her own ex, Kaz (Ayumu Nakajima), whom she later pays a visit.

'Magic' is the slightest of the three segments but sets us up nicely for the movie. As with the other segments, it plays out in less than a handful of lengthy conversations, written in a naturalistic manner, free from the stylisation of most movie dialogue. There's something of the great Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan in how the conversation between Meiko and Kaz takes so many tangents that a few minutes in neither participant is sure what the original point they wished to make really was. It closes with a nice riff on the now well-worn movie cliché of a violent incident playing out, only for it then to be revealed it was merely imagined by the protagonist (think John Cusack bashing Tim Robbins' head in with a phone in High Fidelity).


The second segment 'Door Wide Open' takes its name from the modern practice of college lecturers leaving their office doors open while engaging with students, lest they be accused of impropriety. Wastrel Sasaki (Shouma Kai) has failed to graduate and must repeat a year of college thanks to the low marks given by his French professor Segawa (Kiyohiko Shubukawa). Sasaki devises a plan for revenge, convincing his friend with benefits, mature student Nao (Katsuki Mori), to seduce the professor and record his response with her phone.

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy review

Nao agrees but Sasaki's plan backfires when Nao finds herself drawn to the taciturn professor. Reading an erotic passage from his award-winning novel, Nao becomes turned on, and Sasaki is similarly aroused by hearing his words spoken by a beautiful woman. There's a sly condemnation of Japanese sexual mores here, but they might easily be applied to our increasingly prudish western world. Sasaki has pegged his professor as a potential pervert simply because he writes such graphic depictions of sex, but the professor admits it was simply a case of bowing to the pressures of the market.


The final story, 'Once Again', could have been expanded into a feature, so ripe is its premise. An opening scrawl explains that the story takes place in an alternate near future where a computer virus has resulted in the internet having been completely shut down for a couple of years while the powers that be try to figure out a way to disable the virus. I'm not sure what it says about me that I found the idea of this fictional pandemic more frightening than the real life one we're currently two years deep into.

This premise doesn't really play into the resulting drama save for the lack of the internet seems to have brought people out of their shell. Shy lesbian Moka (Fusako Urabe) plucks up the courage to attend a high school reunion, hoping to be reunited with her first love. Alas the woman isn't there, but a few days later she happens to bump into her lost love, Nana (Aoba Kawai), at a train station.

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy review

Except Nana isn't her first love at all, but a stranger who mistook Moka for someone she once knew herself. To make the most of their odd encounter, Moka and Nana decide to role play as the women they each mistook the other for, speaking, for what seems like the first time, to someone else about years of loss and regret. In doing so, the two women ironically form a bond, leaving us wondering if they might find what they were really looking for after all.

With Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, Hamaguchi gives us two great dramatic sketches and one quite satisfying one. But what's great about all three is that they leave us wondering where their protagonists will go from here. The great movie characters continue to exist once the credits roll, something that occurs not once but three times within the two hours of Hamaguchi's film. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is my first experience of Hamaguchi - whose other 2021 film, Drive My Car, has been similarly lauded by critics on the festival circuit – and I look forward to catching up with his back catalogue and whatever lies ahead from this talented storyteller.

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy
 opens at New York's Film Forum on October 15th and is in UK cinemas from February 11th, 2022.



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