“Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” – 2021 Tokyo FILMeX Review

The literal Japanese-to-English translation Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s unfortunately named “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” (偶然と想像) – winner of the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at Berlin in 2021 – is the more appropriate title of a sharp unapologetic anthology navigating the twists and turns of life. “Coincidence and imagination” are, indeed, what the characters in each of Hamaguchi’s three short films must navigate: what to say and what not to say, whether to make choices that can permanently alter their and others’ existences, and how to toe the line between pondering and doing.

Kotone Furukawa (Meiko) and Ayamu Nakajima (Kazuaki) in “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.” (still courtesy of Tokyo FILMeX)

In the first film, “Magic (or Something Less Assuring),” the casting of youthful Kotone Furukawa as Meiko initially appears to be a visual mismatch against the other two characters, Kazuaki (Ayamu Nakajima) and best friend Tsugumi (Hyunri). Her persistent impetuousness, though, lies at the core of a plot that zooms past an extended taxicab conversation with Tsugumi and straight into the drama of a love triangle that kind of is, but really isn’t. 

Shouma Kai (Sasaki) and Katsuki Mori (Nao) share an uncomfortable bus ride in “Door Wide Open,” one of three short stories in Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film. (still courtesy of Tokyo FILMeX)

“Door Wide Open” initially appears to focus on the fate of Sasaki (Shouma Kai) and his dwindling post-university career prospects, but instead shifts to his married older classmate-turned-fling Nao (Katsuki Mori) and Segawa (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), the professor who failed him. What follows is a tale weaving through themes such as sexism, harassment, and ageism. 

Finally, “Once Again” focuses on a digital-turned-analog setting, and it is here that Natsuko (Fusako Urabe) struggles to recall her memories of a high school relationship, clouded further when her physical presence at a high school reunion in Sendai fails to clarify these.  She ends up turning to an unwitting Good Samaritan in Aya (Aoba Kawai), but their encounter results in unexpected revelations. 

Although the film was overshadowed somewhat last year by the concurrent release of “Drive My Car”– which won Hamaguchi three accolades at the Cannes Film Festival and four Academy Awards nominations, resulting in Best International Feature Film honors – this is well worth a watch for grownups who know what it is like to try, but fail, to completely relinquish their messy pasts.

“Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” won the Audience Award at the Tokyo FILMeX 2021.

Official Tokyo FILMeX Video: Post-screening Q&A with actor Ayamu Nakajima and director Ryusuke Hamaguchi