Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (aka Gûzen to sôzô / Fortune and Fantasy) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
There’s a simple quaintness to how The Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy becomes wonderfully emotional and celebratory of human drama. Writer and director Ryusuke Hamaguchi, prior to directing the Oscar-winning Drive My Car, delivers an intoxicating anthology of the strangeness and simplicity of life. It’s a slice-of-life selection of stories that manage to engross and charm almost effortlessly in its tales of desperation, loneliness, sex, and love.
The first episode, Magic (or Something Less Assuring), is all about a love triangle. Meiko is a model who hangs out with her best friend Tsugumi. During a night out on the town, they speak in a taxi about Tsugumi finding new love. It’s only once Tsugumi reveals the details that Meiko discovers she is dating her ex-boyfriend, Kazuaki. Meiko dares not reveal this info as Tsugumi seems to be very happy with her new love.
Meiko, however, still has some unresolved issues. Immediately after Tsugumi is dropped off, Meiko goes to visit Kazuaki at his office. They have a bitter talk about their past relationship but it soon turns sexual. Clearly, there is some unresolved tension between them and Meiko may be reigniting a relationship that could doom her friendship. After an awkward exchange of feelings that still linger, she has to make a tough choice of either stepping aside or preserving her friendship, leading to a bittersweet resolve.
Episode two, Door Wide Open, gets a bit more sexual despite featuring less sex. Segawa is a French professor with little sympathy for others. He always keeps his door open so that everyone can see just how uncaring he is to keep awkward conversations private. He wins an award for his most recent novel and this attracts the unfaithful wife Nao to seek him out. She sleeps around with students and is hoping that maybe she can convince the accomplished author and teacher to indulge her sexual desires.
It’s once Nao confronts Segawa and reads his book aloud that we discover just how steamy the book turns out to be. With the door to his office open, Nao reads the most erotic passage describing graphic sex involving fellatio and ejaculation. The feelings that Nao holds while reading this are not as reflected in Segawa, who remains firmly unmoved. He appreciates her reading and desires her to read more but feels no sexual attraction. Nao pretty much has to beg for him to masturbate when he listens to it later in private. It’s a desire that will ultimately doom her relationships and career when one mistake unravels her life.
Episode three, Once Again, is perhaps the least tragic of tales, despite being posed as speculative fiction. As a means of trying to limit communication, this entry comes with a brief textual prologue of being set during a time when all emails were divulged in a massive data breach. As a result, communication shifted back to postcards and telegrams. What does this have to do with the story? Not too much but it does make for a suitable scenario of discovering others on your own.
The story concerns Natsuko, a woman attending her high school reunion and feeling little for the other women she went to school with. After an early night, she departs for the train station but cuts her travel back when she finds someone she hasn’t seen in quite some time. Her old classmate is cheerful to see her and invites her back to her house for tea, where they catch up on their lives. A problem arises, however, when Natsuko makes a somber discovery; this woman isn’t her classmate. The misunderstanding doesn’t inhibit their relationship, however, as the two still find a connection through mistaken identity. Their recollection becomes a grander goal with an emotional finale that is absolutely mesmerizing.
The Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy doesn’t disappoint in finding the sweet spots of what makes life worth living. There’s a quiet sense of sadness and happiness to this trio of tales that makes one feel great to be alive. To be able to take a chance and connect with others, embracing all the joys and sorrows that come with it, makes for an invigorating experience. What an astounding picture and one that I hope won’t get as lost for being released the same year as Drive My Car.