Three stories about chance and imagination, written and directed by the up and coming director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi.
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy. What an intriguing movie title! I can understand how the film’s writer and director, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, would be pleased with that translation. However, the literal meaning from the Japanese might give you a better idea of what the movie’s about: “Chance and Imagination.” The film consists of three stories, all of which have coincidences, and explore how imagination plays a big part in relationships. Other elements I see here are mistakes and forgiveness.
The first story is about a young woman who tells a girl friend about a fascinating man that she just met, and that she spent an entire night in conversation with, everything clicking perfectly, and now they’re going to go on a formal date soon. The friend doesn’t let on, but from the woman’s description she’s pretty sure that this man is her ex. She goes to see him, and the tension-filled encounter tells us about a lot of things one would not suspect, and explores some harsh and uncomfortable truths.
The second story starts with a young man who fails to graduate because of a professor who refuses to accept a late assignment. This teacher has become suddenly famous after writing an award-winning novel. The young man persuades his girlfriend to try to lure the professor into a “honey trap” for revenge, coming on to him so that he’ll be disgraced for being sexually inappropriate. Things get complicated, though.
The final story concerns a woman feeling alienated when she attends a high school reunion. She leaves the reunion, and then by chance runs into a former lover. The other woman invites her over for tea, and the stage is set for some revelations about the past. There’s a clever twist in the plot that I won’t tell you. I’ll only say that the two women use their imaginations to recreate memories and heal their wounds.
The first story ends with uncertainty, the second with bitter irony, and the third with an affirmation of going forward in life. On the soundtrack is a solo piano piece by Robert Schumann: “Scenes of Childhood.” It conveys a mood of wistfulness, even a little sentimentality, so I thought I might be in for something emotionally precious or pretentious. It turns out to be a nice fake move: if the music sets you up to be touched, the hard-edged honesty of the dialogue and the daring ups and downs in the characters’ perceptions of events provide a bracing little shock to the system.
The second story features the reading of a passage from the professor’s book that seems frankly pornographic, just to warn you. The intention, I think, is to make you laugh, or at least that’s what I did. I was continually surprised by the insights that emerged from these stories of chance and mistaken assumptions.
Hamaguchi released this film and another one, the critically acclaimed Drive My Car, both in one year, which is quite an accomplishment. I think I’m probably in a minority in preferring this film, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, to the other one. Hamaguchi wrote the three stories here, and so his style, in my opinion, suits his own material in this case more than Drive My Car, which is based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, whose unusual prose manner is, in my view, difficult to adapt. Now, don’t get me wrong; it’s a good movie. It’s just that Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy captured my imagination in a way that still resonates strongly with me.