Review by Sean Boelman
Anthology films don’t always work — and rarely do outside of the horror genre — but Japanese filmmaker Ryûsuke Hamaguchi seems to have cracked the code with his newest movie Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy. Restrainedly funny and unexpectedly touching despite its distance, this is a lovely little film with plenty of layers to dissect.
The secret that really makes Hamaguchi’s movie tick is that there is a thematic consistency to the three stories. Although each one deals with separate characters, they feel connected in that they are all exploring this idea of the consequences of choices, made in the moment or made long ago, and how those affect our perception of the world.
The first chapter is arguably the most conventional, exploring a love triangle that unexpectedly reveals itself. At this point, the film is still trying to find its thematic footing, but the character work in this portion is exceptional, presenting a surprisingly nuanced depiction of romance that works quite well.
Perhaps the funniest portion of the movie is the middle one, following a student trying and failing to seduce her awkward but successful professor. This one doesn’t fully explore the implications that it discusses (and probably couldn’t in approximately forty minutes), but succeeds in creating an uncomfortably funny dynamic between the two characters.
It is the final third of the film that brings it all together, and while this may be the least interesting portion of the movie, it’s also the most genuine and nuanced. Built around a case of mistaken identity, this conversation between two women is packed with honest emotion and resonates in a way that one wouldn’t expect.
Each portion of the film only features two or three main actors, so it is the chemistry between the leads that really drives the movie. The pairings of Kotone Furukawa and Ayumu Nakajima, Kiyohiko Shibukawa and Katsuki Mori, and Fusako Urabe and Aoba Kawai are all great, with Shibukawa and Urabe being particular highlights in the cast.
Hamaguchi also has a clear eye for harmony in his films. The compositions in his movie are truly exquisite, having an almost unsettling perfectness to them. And his use of orchestral arrangements in the soundtrack is wonderful, giving the film a very formal feel that complements the structured nature of the script quite well.
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy offers three stories that are shockingly consistent, avoiding the most common pratfalls of anthology movies. It’s a quietly reflective film that will surely find its fans in the art house crowd.
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is now screening as a part of the Berlinale Industry Event, running virtually from March 1-5, 2021.
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