My favorite film of 2021, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY, opens for a theatrical run in NY and LA today and will screen at the Chicago International Film Festival (live and online) over the next week. I reviewed it for https://www.cinefile.info/:

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY(Japan)
AMC River East 21 – Monday, 8:15pm

HAPPY HOUR, the intimate epic that established Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s international reputation, achieves a novelistic density through the uncommonly detailed way it plumbs the emotional lives of its quartet of lead characters. WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY, the first of two 2021 releases by the director (followed by DRIVE MY CAR), resembles a short-story collection in how it depicts three narratively unrelated vignettes that are formally separated by their own chapter headings and credit sequences. Hamaguchi proves to be equally adept at the short-film format as he was with a 5-hour-plus run time: the mini romantic dramas that comprise WHEEL are gratifying to watch as self-contained episodes, but when one contemplates how they might be linked on a thematic level, the entire project attains a profound resonance (it wasn’t until the morning after my first viewing that I realized the magnitude of Hamaguchi’s deceptively modest approach). The first section, “Magic (Or Something Less Assuring),” begins with an extended Rohmerian dialogue between two female friends, one of whom regales the other about a “magical” date with a man she has fallen in love with, unaware that he is also her friend’s ex-lover. It ends with a chance encounter between all three characters, punctuated by a brief but daring fantasy sequence. The title of the second section, “Door Wide Open,” refers to a literature professor’s policy of avoiding scandal by always keeping his office door open when meeting with students. One day he receives an unexpected visitor, a woman who is attempting to ensnare him in a trap. Or is she? The final section, “Once Again,” is the best: two women who haven’t seen each other in 20 years meet providentially on a train-station escalator before spending the day together and eventually realizing that neither is whom the other had thought. Hamaguchi himself has said that “coincidence and imagination” are the movie’s main themes and, indeed, as the title indicates, each of the stories involves the intersection of the free will of the individual and the fickle nature of fate. But WHEEL is also about the inexorable pull of the past and how the characters’ regrets over roads not taken have keenly shaped who they are. This latter aspect is the key to understanding how a film so charming on the surface can also contain such a melancholy undertow and how characters with only a small amount of screen time can seem so fascinatingly complex and believable. Hamaguchi shows the psychological underpinnings of everyday human behavior in a manner rarely seen in the movies. He knows how to pierce your heart. (2021, 121 min, DCP Digital) [Michael Glover Smith]


About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

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