Japan is a country which has always been renowned for its cinema. The likes of Ozu and Kurosawa regularly top ‘best-of’ lists. In modern times, the film industry has been less successful but the likes of Hirokazu Koreeda, Naomi Kawase and Kiyoshi Kurosawa have still made their mark on a global stage. Meanwhile, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi has been quietly going about his business, with Asako I & II and Happy Hour wowing festival audiences. He’s back with two films this year, and Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy only cements his burgeoning reputation.
Set in Tokyo, we encounter a triptych of stories. Each in their own way addressing the complexities of modern relationships. In ‘Magic (Or Something Less Assuring)’ a fashion model (Kotone Furukawa) finds herself caught between her past (Ayumu Nakajima) and present (Hyunri). ‘Door Wide Open’ tells the tale of a college student (Shouma Kai) plotting to take revenge on his professor (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) using his older lover (Katsuki Mori). Set in a post technology present, ‘Once Again’ ponders a case of mistaken identity between two old college friends (Fusako Urabe and Aoba Kawai).
While the three short stories contained within Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy are separate, they all spin on the same themes of coincidence, fate and love. The acting is superb but it’s Hamaguchi’s deft direction and intelligent writing which is effortlessly enthralling. The staging is excellent. At times bordering on the theatrical but managing to capture the imagination. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is an unusual relationship drama which uses its environment to generate a surprising amount of tension.
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy screens at New York Film Festival on 2 October and opens in Film Forum, New York on 15 October.