Review – Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy

From the acclaimed Director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi famous for his award-winning, Drive My Car, the Japanese film Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is a story in three parts. Each showcasing interesting human traits put to the extreme such as jealousy, kindness, seduction all intertwined by self-conflict, denial and the need for attention. These human emotions and personality portrayals are each performed by a wonderful female cast that will leave you pondering where you as an individual fit in and how you would react in the same situation.

Part 1: Magic or something less assuring

This story follows two friends on their way home from a photoshoot. It takes place in the back seat of a ride-share. The ride is dimly lit as the car drives the freeway. Model Meiko and her friend Tsugumi can be seen every now and then by street lights they pass under. 

The girls talk about a man Tsugumi had met and how they spent a magical evening together talking. Halfway through, Meiko realises she is talking about her ex-partner Kazuaki. After dropping Tsugumi off, Meiko takes the taxi to visit Kazuaki at his office. 

It’s been two years since the two were together. Kazuaki’s heart was broken and it wasn’t until Meiko found out he had moved on did she realise maybe she isn’t quite ready to say goodbye after all. In what becomes a heated argument the two go on a rollercoaster of emotions in what seems like a talk they both needed to have only two years too late.

Part 2: Door Wide Open

A mature aged student, Nao is having an affair with a much younger student, Sasaki. He has great control over her and she enjoys the contrast to her usual life as a wife and mother. He doesn’t however have as much control over his professor Segawa who happens to be failing him.

In an effort to seek revenge that could stop Segawa from failing him, Sasaki convinces Nao to “honey trap” him. Using his own award-winning book to seduce him, Nao reads aloud a saucy chapter hoping to arouse Segawa. Keeping the door open to avoid any suspicion, Segawa denied Nao and her efforts. However, he enjoyed her reading his work and asked her to read more. 

As Nao had secretly recorded the entire interaction hoping to catch him out, she sent him the recording as per his request. She did, however, manage to send it to the wrong email exposing the entire interaction which resulted in Segawa being fired and Nao’s partner leaving her.

Part 3: Once Again

In 2019 a computer virus managed to divulge personal data with its contacts. As a result, everyone reverted to using the postal service and telegrams. Without the ease of the internet and a handy mobile phone to do a quick search when needed, Natsuko attends her high school reunion, only she doesn’t remember anyone’s name. 

On her way to the train station she passes an old classmate, she does remember. After a quick interlude, her classmate invites her back to her house for a cup of tea and to catch up. Time passes with some friendly conversation until it dawns on Natsuko’s classmate that she can’t remember her name. It turns out they have both mistaken each other for former classmates. However, neither of them went to the same school. 

Natsuko and her new friend Aya manage to fight through the awkwardness and they decide to do some role play as if the other person was who they thought they were talking to. They navigated a broken heart and an unspoken friendship that never had any closure. 

The three stories by no means have any connection to each other. They each show different human personalities and emotions through the eyes of a female protagonist. The dialogue is heavy and it’s very much a showcase of how Director and Writer Ryûsuke Hamaguchi is at capturing confident female leads with a world of questions floating around in their heads. However, it’s because it’s dialogue-heavy that the story does become stagnant in quite a few places.

The performances by each of the main characters manage to capture exactly what is being set out from the opening scene. These are female characters that appear strong and well put together on the outside. But with a little digging, it’s quick to see these women are managing some internal battles with their identity, personal compass and where they fit in in the world. 

Visually this is where the film starts to lack, though it’s for good reason. The scenes are very much about the dialogue, who is saying it doesn’t play as strong a part or even where they are saying it. From the dark backseat of a ride-share or the office of a lecturer to the sitting room of a suburban house, none of it is as important as the lines being delivered.

Overall, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is an outside look at strong females in different scenarios and how they react. It’s a social commentary on what is expected and how emotions can make a person do and say things they wouldn’t normally do. It’s heavy and at times a drawn-out film that is hard to follow. Not due to the subtitles, more because it’s hard to engage with the characters as they are talking so much. That isn’t to say what they are saying isn’t important. The film does manage to invoke more questions than it gives answers. 

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