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film review

Kotone Furukawa as Meiko and Ayumu Nakajima as Kazuaki in Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.Courtesy of Film Movement

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Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy

Written and directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Starring Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Aoba Kawai and Kotone Furukawa

Classification N/A; 121 minutes

Available on-demand starting Jan. 18

Critic’s pick

Two close friends make an unexpected discovery about their lovers. A literature professor has a startling encounter with a student. A high-school reunion takes a curious turn amidst the backdrop of a global emergency. Each of the three short stories making up Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s new omnibus film Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy could stand on its own as a work of top-tier drama. Yet when stitched together, with the themes of coincidence and kindness being the only real connective tissue, the narratives spin themselves into something just shy of cinematic profundity.

The first film, “Magic (or Something Less Assuring)” – which, like Hamaguchi’s other 2021 masterpiece Drive My Car, has an extended scene involving, well, a drive in a car – follows model Meiko (Kotone Furukawa) as she hears about the new love interest of her friend Tsugumi (Hyunri). Things take a turn, though, once Meiko realizes just who Tsugumi is infatuated with, resulting in a drama both nerve-wracking and heartbreaking. The second story, “Door Wide Open,” involves a mature student named Nao (Katsuki Mori) and her attempts to seduce professor Segawa (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), who may or may not have done Nao’s young lover wrong. Finally, “Once Again” looks at two women (Fusako Urabe and Aoba Kawai) both aching to resolve lingering adolescent traumas – a tragicomic vignette that is set, for dramatic reasons that eventually become semi-clear, in a world where the internet has been wiped out by a computer virus.

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy plays like a collection of short, two- or three-person plays.Courtesy of Film Movement

Approaching his work like a modern-day Krzysztof Kieslowski, Hamaguchi is fascinated by quiet characters whose lives – and our interest in them – depend on the intervention of what some call happenstance, others fate. This is not the realm of dramatic fireworks, but small bursts of melancholic epiphanies, with each short story building upon the other to present a world that demands open eyes, minds and hearts.

Shot in-between the bifurcated production of Drive My Car – which started filming just before the pandemic hit in March, 2020, necessitating an eight-month break – Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy plays like a collection of short, two- or three-person plays that might pique the interest of Drive My Car’s lead character, theatre director Yusuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima), so fascinated was he by life’s tiny moments of unexpected intimacy. What might also impress Yusuke: Each story contains perfectly pitched performances, with Shibukawa and Kawai offering especially affecting work.

Each short story builds upon the other to present a world that demands open eyes, minds and hearts.Courtesy of Film Movement

According to Hamaguchi, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy could have once included seven stories – a not surprising admission given that the director cannot resist going long (Drive My Car’s three-hour length is but an afternoon diversion compared to the day-long affair that is the director’s four-hour-plus drama Intimacies and his five-hour-plus epic Happy Hour). His restraint here is impressive. But given the confidence of and sharpness to each story, Hamaguchi is welcome to make a sequel or three whenever he wants to spin his wheels.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.