Saturday, October 2, 2021

Chances and Do-Overs

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2021) - Hamaguchi Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, Hamaguchi Ryusuke's second film at the festival, is a breezy, entertaining contemplation on chance and desires and how they all play out differently for different people. Again, Hamaguchi proves himself to be one the most astute observers of human conditions in contemporary cinema.

The film is divided in three equal parts. Episode one is titled Magic (or Something Less Assuring), Ep.2, Door Wide Open and Ep.3, Once Again. Each episode examines different scenario of coincidences that affect its characters with a vastly different outcome. There are no tangible or overlapping connections among the three tales. But the third episode ties the theme of chance and road to redemption nicely, and takes a sweet, positive turn. The film also makes a broad swipe at our Internet, social media dependent society.

The first episode concerns a former flame and jealousy. Meiko (Furukawa Kotone), a fresh-faced model, shares a cap ride with Tsugumi (Lee Hyunri), who works for an agency, after a fashion photo shoot. Tsugumi is in the middle of telling Meiko about an amazing date she had with Kazu (Nakajima Ayumu), a young business executive and how they clicked right away. And Meiko seems to be really into the story, asking details of the date. They even discuss if it's ethical to sleep together on a first date. But it sounds like Kazu's still not out of the shadow of his previous relationship that ended two years ago. It turns out that Meiko is Kazu's ex. And without telling Tsugumi the truth, Meiko confronts Kazu at his office the same night. She psychologically tortures him, getting a confession that he still loves and wants her.

Meiko shows up at the cafe Kazu and Tsugumi's next date. Now Meiko has two choices: She can tell unsuspecting Tsugumi the truth and destroy the budding romance, or be nice and pretend she doesn't know Kazu when she gets introduced and wish the couple the best luck and excuse herself.

The second episode concerns a revenge plot that involves 'honey trap'. Professor Segawa (Shibukawa Kiyohiko) just humiliated Sasaki (Kai Shouma), a student in front of the entire class. And Sasaki seeks revenge by using his older lover and classmate, a single mom, Nao (Mori Katsuki). And she is up for the challenge. She's read Segawa's just published award winning book and loved it.

Nao visits the professor at his office and asks for a private talk. No can do, the professor informs. He's very careful in the #MeToo age and the door to his office remains open while they talk. Showering him with platitudes, she says she is very taken by his book. She then asks him if she can read an excerpt from the book. He gives an ok. It's a very erotic description of fellatio and he's visibly gripped by her reading. Nao asks if this is what he desires in real life. He says what he wants and what he writes are two different things. Nao then confesses that she has been recording their conversation the whole time, trying to implicate him for an inappropriate behavior and ruin his reputation, but she can't bring herself up to do it. But taken by her erotic rendition of his book, he states that he wants the recording for himself. Nao promises Segawa that she will send it to him via email. We've all clicked that 'Send' button by mistake to unintended receivers and realize it seconds later. That happens in this episode.

The third episode comes with a prologue: An Internet virus released everyone's secrets out in the open. This fact doesn't figure deeply into the story but contribute to the over all theme of human connections and false sense of security in the Internet age. Natsuko (Urabe Hisako), an introverted woman comes to town to attend a high school reunion. It's been twenty years. She is overjoyed when she finds her long lost love at the train station. But after talking for a while, they realize that they are not who they thought they were to each other, but complete strangers. But the strong bond has formed between two women and they take turns to take on the role of their long lost friends.

We all have regrets and wish for do-overs sometimes, Hamaguchi exercises these second chances and fantasies in intimate human stories in Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy. It's funny and touching and very well acted. Maybe it's the Covid time thing, but there is a pleasure seeing characters just talking to each other at length in Hamaguchi's delicately written dialog. It's one of those films you want to see it again immediately after finishing it.

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