Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy review – a triptych of light-touch philosophy | Berlin film festival 2021

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Ryusuke Hamaguchi is a Japanese film-maker whose work I first encountered in 2018 with his doppelgänger romance Asako I & II and indirectly via last year’s experimental chamber-piece Domains, whose screenwriter Tomoyuki Takahashi has worked with Hamaguchi. Now he has unveiled this ingenious, playful, sparklingly acted and thoroughly entertaining portmanteau collection of three movie tales.

Their themes and ideas are emerging as keynotes for this director: fate and coincidence, identity and role-play, and the mysteries of erotic pleasure and desire. There is a rather European flavour in the mix – one of its characters is a specialist in French literature – and I found myself thinking of Emmanuel Carrère and Milan Kundera. And although there is no formal connection between the stories (other than the thematic echoes) the simple act of juxtaposition creates something pleasingly cohesive.

In the first, Magic (Or Something Less Reassuring), we see a model called Meiko (Kotone Furukawa) going home in a cab after a photoshoot with her friend, an art director called Gumi (Hyunri Lee), and gossiping excitedly about the man that Gumi has started seeing. This marvellous-sounding individual really opened up about his own feelings on their date, talking about the ex who broke his heart. Something about this description makes Meiko very thoughtful, and she goes to see her own ex, a successful young businessman called Kaz (Ayumu Nakajima).

In the second story, Door Wide Open, a mature student called Nao (Katsuki Mori), married with a child, is having a passionate affair with a young undergraduate, Sasaki (Shouma Kai), who has just been humiliatingly flunked by his professor Segawa (Kiyohiko Shubukawa), an award-winning scholar and novelist. Angry and vengeful, Sasaki asks Nao to try seducing this man, so that he will be disgraced.

And in the third story, Once Again, Moka (Fusako Urabe) is a thirtysomething woman who goes to a dismal high-school reunion and only afterwards at the train station runs into the person that she really wanted to see: the woman who was her first love. Nana (Aoba Kawai), though apparently flustered and bewildered, is delighted to see her. But it isn’t until halfway through their halting conversation that both women make an alarming discovery.

Hamaguchi shows how each situation is redeemed, or at any rate altered, by a kind of miracle. In the first, Meiko has the magic power to stop and rewind time so that she can play out a certain situation, or conversation, differently. In the second, the dignified thoughtfulness of Segawa means that Nao is deeply moved and this complicates her erotic designs on him. Throughout their conversation he asks for his office door to be kept open to prevent any suggestion of impropriety, but this is also emblematic of his own openness. And in the third, Moka and Nana use role-play to ease their painful emotional burdens.

This trio of stories is elegant and amusing, with a delicacy of touch and real imaginative warmth. The narratives saunter along lightly but fundamentally seriously, asking us to consider how the paths we take in life – the wrong turnings, the right turnings – can be governed by the merest chance. It’s a really pleasurable and invigorating experience.

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Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy review – a triptych of light-touch philosophy | Berlin film festival 2021

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