13 April 2024

Film Review – Wheel Of Fortune And Fantasy (2021)

They used to be known as portmanteau pictures and they still are, but the phrase has almost fallen into obscurity. They’re movies made up of several individual stories often taking the form of short films – think anything from Pulp Fiction (1994) to California Suite (1978). Currently riding high on the critical acclaim for Drive My Car, Japanese writer/director Ryusuke Hamaguchi adopts a more traditional approach for its forerunner, Berlin Silver Bear winner Wheel Of Fortune And Fantasy, giving us three shorts with links that are not so much physical as emotional.

All three tales are female focussed. In Magic – Or Something Less Assuring, Meiko (Kotone Furukawa) realises that the new boyfriend her best friend is rapidly falling for is, in fact, her ex. Wide Open sees Nao’s (Katsuki Mori) friend-with-benefits using her as a honey trap to get revenge on his college professor. And in Once Again the solitary Natsuko (Fusako Urabe) bumps into somebody she recognises from her past, with the two admitting feelings they have buried deep for years. Stories of love in different forms, affected by coincidences, perceptions and the devilish twists of fate life randomly throws in our direction.

Those cunning about-turns raise inevitable questions about how much our lives are determined by chance and choice, or a mixture of the two, and how hard they can be to understand. But what sounds like the everyday is enhanced by the director’s skill as a storyteller: one tale offers a Sliding Doors style double ending, with both options ending in heartache for the main character. The future of another is dictated by a single letter in an email address. And seemingly ordinary moments are infused with more significance – watch the ever-present procession of passing students outside a professor’s door which forms the backdrop to a scene which could so easily be misconstrued.

It makes for a film where dialogue is the all-important means of expressing feelings and emotions which, hitherto, have been locked in. And Hamaguchi’s liking for classical two handers in the same location intensifies our concentration on the characters and their dilemmas. But that’s not to say it lacks visual appeal: indeed, some of it enhances that communication, from hesitantly expressive hand holding to a mis-judged kiss. Away from the confines of fastidious small apartments and offices, the Japanese provincial city isn’t just equally neat and clean, but sparklingly pristine with surprisingly voluptuous curves. An almost sterile backdrop for emotional turmoil.

While you almost expect one of the stories to be the weaker of the three, the good news is that all of them are equally fascinating and intriguing, with their differing propositions and complex characters, linked together with delicacy and subtlety. Even if all the scenarios don’t always achieve complete resolution, the result is emotional satisfaction and a film that easily stands a second watch.

★★★★


Drama | Cert: 15 | UK Cinemas, 11th February 2022 | Modern Films | Dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi | Kotone Furukawa, Katsuki Mori, Fusako Urabe.


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