Review: Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy

Written and directed by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, an unexpected love triangle, a failed seduction trap and an encounter that results from a misunderstanding, told in three movements to depict three female characters and trace the trajectories between their choices and regrets. Starring: Kotone Furukawa, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Katsuki Mori, Fusako Urabe, Aoba Kawai, Ayumu Nakajima, Hyunri and Shouma Kai.

Typically when you think of romance films split between several stories, what comes to mind is probably overly cheesy, star-stuffed American flicks and this is far from it. The unique thing about this romantic trilogy is that each of them all have a touch of the odd to them. The atmosphere is one that’s delightfully unusual, to different extents in each segment but they all weave a strange pattern, which draws in your attention so much more than the usual fodder. The style of direction is the one overriding element bringing them all together, its still and slow, and likes to stick with one shot for an extended period of time. The effect of those choices means it doesn’t take away from the charming personality which each story is building. It holds a certain elegance to it, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi manages to set a tone that’s missing from a lot of romance films, by not putting romance first but instead focusing on individuals rather than couples.

Each of the stories are completely different from one another, what they all have in common is not love but awkwardness and an unconventional situation. There’s mistaken identity, entrapment and deception, each of them bring a moment which is just the right amount of uncomfortable. Particularly the second story of professor and student, the professor (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) is inexplicably robotic, unemotional and withdrawn, and yet there’s something about that decision which is still charming. Each of the stories highlights a connection between two people, it’s intermingled with romance but never takes the lead. The way that the story as a whole moves feels very natural, the energy it has flows nicely throughout. There’s no jarring transitions despite being in three parts, as the writing manages to make them all peacefully co-exist within this intimate world Hamaguchi has created.

The performances here are great across the board, each of the actors bring a strong personality to their characters, which is especially well done considering they don’t each have very long. While there isn’t a stand-out performance, one particular chemistry which does stand out is between Fusako Urabe and Aoba Kawai. Their segment is perhaps the most unusual and the least romantic and yet they have the strongest connection of the film, it’s so generous and unexpected that it’s quite beautiful to watch.

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is an unexpected delight, ignoring all the cliched rules of romance and focusing on people making genuine human connections. It’s unusual and odd but in a subtle, graceful and charming way. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s direction has a slow, quiet elegance while his writing has strong personality and a unique tone. It’s undoubtedly an ensemble effort here, every element of the film moves naturally and carries a compelling energy, it’s simply satisfying to see a romance film go in such a lovely and different direction.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival 2021

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