"I have rarely enjoyed watching fictional or for that matter real people talk more on screen"

Challenging Work of Genius from Japan

(012122) Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (it has nothing to do with the game show) is an uncommonly challenging and extraordinarily perspicacious new film from Japan that deals with what the late musical philosopher John Cage once called “chance operations.” Only this movie is designed to draw attention to the importance chance or randomness plays in destiny or film rather than in music. The film depicts how whole destinies of people would be altered if a minute second of detail in their lives would be changed. Other respectable films like Go (1999) and Sliding Doors(1998) have tried to accomplish something similar, but they did have not done it nearly as well.

The director, Hamaguchi Ryusuke is not well known to most Western film viewers, but he has made a huge splash in festival and film criticism circles. Both of the films he released this year have gotten the highest ratings from critics and both made many top 10 lists. Wheels of Fortune and Fantasy was number 10 in the prestigious Sight and Sound best films of the year list, and the other film he released this year, Drive My Car, was number 3. Wheels was also on the New York Times best films of 2021 list, and it also received 98 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes which is fairly rare (I don’t agree, but 2001 A Space Odyssey only got a 92 percent.)

The vast majority of Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy consists of conversations between pairs of characters often played by non professional actors doing partially improved scenes on camera, a few scenes involve three or more actors. The acting styles of most of the performers is understated and the director actually encouraged most of the actors to under emote so that every minor variation in speech or facial expression has a maximum impact, both Yasujiro Ozu and Robert Bresson did something similar in their classic films like Pickpocket (1959) and Late Spring (1949).

The film has three parts each involving life altering chance encounters involving young, complicated women from the middle class that often verbally dance with other characters. Each of the vignettes have extended conversations filled with psychoanalytic influenced dialogue. I have rarely enjoyed watching fictional or for that matter real people talk more on screen.

The first mini film revolves around Tsugumi who has a deep romantic encounter with a businessman who was freshly wounded in a romantic breakup with another woman. She confides in her best friend, Meiko who turns out to be the woman who wounded him. Meiko is angry at him because he altered his presentation of the events to make himself look good. When Meiko goes to talk to him will the man want to reunite with her or will he move on and accept his new potential love? The opening scene is repeated several times with minor differences which steer each alternative in a different direction (the film also does this in the other sequences).

The second vignette features a sequence in which a young woman named Nao tries to do what her boyfriend calls “honey trapping” a professor. She attempts to get the professor to do or say something inappropriate on tape so that he will be fired, and then Noa’s boyfriend who holds a grudge against the professor can get revenge on the professor he hates. The whole outcome hinges on whether the teacher keeps his door office open as the film shows us from several depiction of alternate scenarios starting off the same way that end differently. The section features one scene in which a young woman merely reads a sexually themed excerpt from a book with a minimum of emotion to its author which is more erotic than anything in Basic Instinct or any of the big films traditionally thought of as “sexy.”

The third section takes place in a future scenario in which a computer virus prevents people from communicating online so they presumably cannot look up info on people or find photos. This causes a woman named Natsuko to mistake another woman named Aya for Mika, her ex-girlfriend at a high school reunion. For part of the time the two converse with Aya not admitting she has never met Natsuko while Natsuko is sure they have been physically and emotionally intimate. Eventually, Aya admits that the whole thing is a case of mistaken identity then the film takes an unexpected turn. Since Aya looks just like Natsuko’s ex would look like at this point in her life, Aya convinces Natsuko to talk to her as if she were Mika while Aya role plays so Natsuko can get some much needed romantic closure.

The whole situation reminds me of something that happened to me in Chicago Ridge Mall. A man I never met greeted me like a friend, and he was somehow convinced that I was a close friend of the family and that I used to always have dinner at his house with his family. He wanted me to come over for dinner and maybe date his sister whose husband had just died. I never said I was the person he thought I was (he was mostly talking at me), but I was half tempted to go along with it just to see if I could play the role and become who he wanted me to be, but I decided against it because I did not want to toy with anyone’s feelings.

Because there are so many close ups and medium shots in Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy  would not gain much impact from seeing it from a big screen, unlike say Dune or Lawrence of Arabia which are filled with long shots. I would recommend streaming this film on a decent size screen TV or laptop and constantly reviewing parts and going forward as desired so they can fully absorb and understand the minute plot variations caused by little second long plot changes.In this way the viewer can take notes and write down interesting dialogue which will better help them construct the meaning of the film, this is the same way I watched Prospero’s Books while I was in grade school.

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is not widely available or easily seen, but it is well worth making the greatest efforts to see. If you get the opportunity to view this film anywhere or any time you should take it. It is really something quite special and quite frankly a work of genius.

In Japanese with English sub-titles.

Directed & Written by:    Hamaguchi Ryusuke
Starring:    Kotone Fukawama, Ayume Nakajima, Fusoke
Released:    101521 (USA)
Length:    121minutes
Rating:    Not Rated
Available On:    The film did not play in theatres in Chicago, but it is
 available for streaming on Vudu and MUBI

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

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