Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy ★★★★½
(M) 121 minutes
You’re not who I thought you were, one character tells another early in Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy. More precisely, these are words which fashion assistant Gumi (Hyunri) reports hearing from Kazu (Ayumu Nakajima), the guy she likes, on their recent first date.
Kazu at this point has not yet shown up on screen, but he’s the subject of a lengthy conversation between Gumi and her friend and colleague Meiko (Kotone Furukawa) as they share a cab on their way home from a Tokyo photo shoot.
As luck would have it, Kazu is also Meiko’s ex from a year or two earlier, although Gumi has no clue about this. Nor does the viewer, until the next scene, when Meiko turns up at the office where Kazu is working after dark.
Another lengthy conversation follows, revealing that Meiko in turn is not the person we might have thought she was – or at least that she has depths that belie her demure, schoolgirlish appearance, which defines the phrase butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.
This may already sound pretty complicated, but it’s just the beginning. The wheel of fortune spins a couple more times before this love triangle works itself out – and afterwards there are still two more stories to go in this delightful anthology film, made back-to-back with Hamaguchi’s breakout international success Drive My Car.
While the three stories don’t directly overlap, they share certain devices and themes. All of them are built around intimate dialogues played out in something resembling real time, where the characters, especially the women, have more on their minds than they’re willing to reveal all at once.
The second story introduces us to Nao (Katsuki Mori) whose younger boyfriend (Shouma Kai) convinces her to lure his university professor (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) into a honey trap. But again, this is just the starting point for a series of skirmishes where it’s often unclear who really has the upper hand.
In the final story, the games are between two women (Fusako Urabe and Aoba Kawai), who cross paths by chance and recognise each other as former classmates – though having come this far, we may well wonder straight away if things are quite what they seem.
All three stories could be loosely described as tales of seduction, which is also the game Hamaguchi is playing with the audience: toying with us, persuading us to jump from one speculative train of thought to another, keeping us alert and intrigued.
We caressed each other through our conversation, Gumi says of her first date with Kazu. We don’t witness this particular encounter for ourselves – but in retrospect, the whole film seems designed to show us what she means.
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is now showing in cinemas.
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