The moments we spend in conversation with other people can be informative both for what is said and what is left unsaid. A continued exchange of words doesn’t necessarily translate to a clear communication, and one person may be trying to express something that doesn’t come across at all or is purposely vague in an effort to be deceptive or misleading. The interactions of strangers or people who know each other very well can be fascinating to watch. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy divides its investigation of dialogue into three intriguing segments.
In “Magic (Or Something Less Assuring),” Meiko (Kotone Furukawa) hears about the new man her best friend Gumi (Hyunri) has recently started seeing, and goes to confront Kazuaki (Ayumu Nakajima), with whom she shares her own history. In “Door Wide Open,” Nao (Katsuki Mori) goes to see Professor Segawa (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) to help her boyfriend Sasaki (Shouma Kai). In “Once Again,” in the wake of a virus that has leaked all electronic data, Moka (Fusako Urabe) runs into Nana (Aoba Kawai) at her high school reunion and is excited to see an old friend, even if they are both missing some crucial information about the other.
What unites these three vignettes, which each run around forty minutes, is a near-contrast stream of conversation. Meiko and Gumi sit in the back of a cab discussing romance, and Meiko picks up with Kazuaki as soon as she has left her friend. Nao goes over Sasaki’s grievances with him, and then proceeds to Segawa’s office to speak with the professor. And Moka and Nana immediately begin recalling old memories to compare their understandings of formative events in their past. There are few occasions on which the camera simply rests on a scene without words being uttered.
This presents a stark contrast to Hamaguchi’s other current high-profile release, Drive My Car, which features many moments of silence and runs three hours. In a sense, it makes the events of Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy more difficult to process, since no one stops speaking for long enough to provide any sort of clarity on whether one of the people on screen is fabricating or lying about something. These characters’ words must be taken at face value since they never stop talking, and, given the malicious intentions of several parties, that makes trying to deconstruct their meaning an even more challenging – and simultaneously rewarding – task.
This film functions at times like a play, pairing two actors in a lengthy scene that allows them to fully engage with each other. The performances presented are subtle and compelling, and the actors build them with little context, given that the film barely shows them outside of that very moment they are in for nearly the entirety of their segment. The rich portrayal of women that Furukawa, Mori, and Urabe bring opposite their scene partners is particularly rewarding, and, though they each have a crucial flaw that inhibits their happiness, they are resilient and determined to find a way forward.
Those seeking an emphatic connector to bridge these three stories together will not find one, other than recurring themes that define each of the women and their interactions. The film’s synopsis cites coincidence, imagination, memory, regret, deception, and fate as some of the ingredients that come together to build this cinematic experience, all of which create an enthralling set of storylines that are equally frustrating and fulfilling. It succeeds in charting many possible courses and exploring the important points of divergence that can lead alternately to bliss or misery.
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy arrives on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital on Tuesday, January 18th.