Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy : ‘Berlinale’ Review – A Gorgeous Trifecta About the Conversations that Bind Us
Humans are the most flexible creatures on this entire planet. They interpret what happens to them in ways different from each other. Sometimes, we react to unexpected situations in even more unexpected ways, and this often surprises us ourselves. The Japanese filmmaker Ryusuke Hamaguchi explores human uncertainty in his latest film Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Guzen to sozo). Through three stimulating situations, he succeeds in crafting a gorgeously provocative trifecta of human connections which emerge out of the desolation.
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is one of those films which stay faithful to their title: through three short films, it comments on how often our lives come to a full circle, for better or worse. Hamaguchi tells these stories with deliberate minimalism, sincerity, and unspeakable honesty. And yet, it offers no simple solutions. The heightened drama is complemented by searing emotional density. And the proceedings are informed by the feelings of grief and melancholy.
EPISODE 1 – LOVE TRIANGLE
The segment opens with a one-shot sequence of two women talking in a car. Tsugami is describing her first date with a man, and how it stopped just short of sex. As the two women have a heart-to-heart, Meiko realizes that the date of Tsugami is none other than Kazuaki, her ex-boyfriend, who has now gone successful in his professional life. What follows is a series of confrontations, as Meiko and Kazuaki accept their respective fortunes and let go of their pointless fantasies. With the character development of Meiko (played by the excellent Kotone Furukawa), the film explores the boundaries humans must make when making a choice, and accepting their seclusion with resignation. Perhaps the most emotionally resonant short of the three in Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.
EPISODE 2 – SEDUCTION TRAP
Acceptance of one’s loneliness and confronting one’s dark truths get subtler and sharper with the witty, entertaining second short of Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy. Essentially the character study of a sex addict, the film follows a young lady, Nao (played by a compelling Katsuki Mori), an academic proofreader who is in an illicit sexual relationship with the much-younger Sasaki, who is a complete college heartthrob. One day, Nao comes to know of the vulgar, raunchy Japanese stories with bawdy sexual descriptions written by the feared professor Segawa. She then determines to entangle the professor in a seduction trap, and a failed attempt of the same turns her life upside down. Frankly, this is the weakest short of the three because it feels intermittently stretched.
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But it must be applauded how interestingly the idea of life coming to a full circle comes to play at the end of the short. Because misfortune, like fortune, is desperately in the need of emotional closure.
EPISODE 3- MISUNDERSTANDINGS
What are misunderstandings? They stem from the failure of interpreting something correctly. They often emerge from desolation, the denial of it, and the lack of companionship. They do a lot of harm to the individual’s health, and thus a series of mishaps happen in the individual’s life. One of them is the misinterpretation of a scenario or a lack of remembrance for that matter. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy rolls for the one last time, this time contemplating on a middle-aged lesbian woman Moka (played by a fantastic Musako Urabe) with a loss of memory, who arrives in the metropolis in search of her high-school girlfriend. In the process, she stumbles on a wealthy housewife Nana, both of them misinterpreting each other as long-time friends.
The film, while subverting its mainstream narrative in an affectionate climax, boasts of rich melody and very real conversation. The writing pertinently brings out the unswerving need for human connections that bind each other in a thread of love. It’s a bittersweet ending that brings the important narrative empathy out of the short, and this results in the finest segment of Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.
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Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy rolls with remarkable technical finesse. The sound design by Akihiko Suzuki and Naoki Jono is beautifully endearing, and perhaps the best slant of the film. The costumes designed by Fuminori Usui are charming and terrific. Yukiko Iioka’s cinematography is refreshingly simple and instills the feeling of calmness and restraint to complement the laid-back, overwhelmingly written screenplay. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is a gorgeous trifecta of human connections that deserves to be seen for its extraordinary simplicity and varying perspectives. Don’t miss it.
‘WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY’ PREMIERED AT THE 2021 BERLINALE
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DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: RYOSUKE HAMAGUCHI
EDITOR: SMARO PAPAEVANGELOU
DOP: YUKIKO IIOKA
MUSIC: AKIHIKO SUZUKI, NAOKI JONO
RUNTIME: 121 MINUTES