Wheel of Fortune & Fantasy (Gūzen to Sōzō) - Spoiler Free Review
A modern Japanese folklore that recounts three separate stories about decisions made and their aftermaths. An exploration of what it means to be human!
Original Title: 偶然と想像 (Gūzen to Sōzō)
Genre: Drama / Romance
Director: Ryūsuke Hamaguchi
Cast: Kotone Furukawa, Hyunri, Ayumu Nakajima, Katsuki Mori, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Shouma Kai, Fusako Urabe & Aoba Kawai.
Run Time: 121 min.
Japan Release: 26 August 2021
US Release: 15 October 2021 (limited release)
UK Release: 11 February 2022
German Release: 01 September 2022
Only having heard of this after watching the magnificent Drive My Car, I was awaiting the German release of this anthology flick, to experience it in theatres. Now, a year after its official release in Japan, it finally made its way to German cinemas and it was one of the best theatre experiences I had! Hamaguchi manages to capture the essence of humanity, injecting facets of it into each of the three separate narratives. This is a very sombre but impactful piece of art!
An anthology film about an unexpected love triangle, a failed seduction trap and an encounter that results from a misunderstanding, told in three short stories that depict three female characters, tracing the trajectories between their choices and regrets.
Split up into three separate stories, director-writer Ryūsuke Hamaguchi traverses the lives of three women whose past choices left them with remorse about specific events that transpired. Each of the three include the topic of love, which climaxes in an explosion of bottled-up feelings that were left unresolved by the protagonists. This is a light plus easily digestible modern philosophical fable, Gūzen to Sōzō focuses on human facets of erotic desire, the search for one's identity, as well as the mythos of fate and fantasy. It is a red thread that moves along each plot.
Masterfully written, Hamaguchi explores within each story the effects Japanese culture can have on love, including how the male role is viewed from different perspectives. Each situation is resolved by a redeemable outcome; be it through fantasizing about different results of a conversation with an ex, through the magic of role-playing to ease emotional baggage, or simply through the thoughtfulness and openness of others.
Conversations are key in this feature, as each segment is constructed as a dialogue-heavy short film. Every discussion feels natural. Never during the whole run-time have I been pulled out of the experience because a piece of the dialogue felt scripted or cheesy. People talk over each other, raise voices or fight and it all sounds genuine. The dialogue is evidence of the high level of writing that Hamaguchi put into the script.
The characters, just like the conversations, all seem real thanks to the electrifying performances of each actress and actor! Each chapter is like a short window into a person's life.
Kotone Furukawa as Meiko and Hyunri, who plays her best Tsugumi have good chemistry that cements their character’s friendship on screen. Meiko is a young woman, who doesn’t really know what she wants in life, reflected in her pasts relationships. After a conversation with Tsugumi about her amazing date, she feels compelled to look up her ex-boyfriend to clarify past mistakes that were done.
Katsuki Mori who portrays Nao, a mature student who is married and a mother, is equally as fascinating. Nao is a sexually open woman, contrary to Japanese culture. However, who steals each scene is Kiyohiko Shibukawa, who plays her professor. He seems cold and distant at first but is in reality a warm, open person; metaphorically represented by how he always wants his office door to be left open.
Finally, we have Fusako Urabe and Aoba Kawai as Moka Natsuko plus Nana Aya respectively. The two characters meet through a misunderstanding, yet an immediate connection is built. Once again, the chemistry between the two actresses manifests the relationship between the two personas.
The cinematography is extremely simple but effective. No larger-than-life camera trickery is involved, just simple one-shots, two-shots, close-ups and medium long-shots. However, all of them serve a purpose in the overall arc of the stories. Director of photography Yukiko Iioka, used long-shots when introducing us to characters, switching to close-ups when those personas were about to unload emotionally. Hamaguchi also ensured to get the most out of lingering scenes, never compromising by cutting away too early. This helped to build up dramatic tension, while at the same time letting heavy dialogue segments sink in.
The music, constructed solely of two piano compositions by Robert Schumann, compliments the stories with its quiet yet dreamlike melodies.
Verdict: This is one of the best thought-provoking pictures I have seen in a long time. An entertaining slow-burn that focuses on dialogue instead of action, Ryūsuke Hamaguchi’s anthology movie is a modern fable of light philosophy that investigates the human facets of love, loss, deceit and how chance and fantasy can help heal painful decisions made in the past. The conversations between characters are realistically written, driving the stories of the three female protagonists, who share how culture and their experience with men shaped their lives. The performances of every individual in this feature are sincere and heartfelt. Underneath each composer lures an explosive emotional volcano waiting to erupt. The camerawork is simple, yet benefits this type of film. The lighting and colour palette look natural, with minimum to no effects used. Wheel of Fortune & Fantasy is a must-see, deserving a 9.0 out of 10.
If you don’t mind dialogue-heavy movies, with thought-provoking messages then I do recommend you go see this little masterpiece of foreign cinema. Thank you for reading!