Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy’s subtle charms are sneaky enough to beg for a second viewing. This is not a bad thing. Just as sacred scripture’s multiple layers of meaning rely on repeated readings, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s spinning triptych of quiet love stories richly rewards return trips. This understated gem stuns subtly. It requires its audience to lean in close and listen to its barely perceptible shifts.
Hamaguchi’s films regularly vibrate with existential angst, and this latest offering lifts up three separate opportunities to explore the effects of the little earthquakes that make us who we are. Each story stands on its own, none of them sharing any characters or scenarios, but when absorbed together, they become a sort of multi-movement tone poem, each harmonizing with the other two and creating ever-widening ripples that stretch far beyond the sum of the parts.
Connecting all three tales are coincidences, longing, loneliness, and mistaken identities. In “Magic (or Something Less Alluring),” a young woman gossips giddily with a colleague about the colleague’s new beau, but the conversation starts to stir unresolved issues she has with an ex.
In “Door Wide Open,” a student seeks revenge for a bad grade by sending his older lover to seduce his well-known professor in a “honey trap,” but the connection that builds between the lover and the professor takes an unexpected turn.
In “Once Again,” two aged high school classmates happen upon one another in a slightly dystopian future and begin a trip down memory lane. They discover the effects of dissecting and revisiting the roles they’ve played and the disappointments they’ve endured.
These synopses are intentionally vague, because organic discovery is important to the entire experience. These quiet and lovely mini-masterpieces are brimming over with soft surprises. Hamaguchi isn’t out to shock, though some of the twists of this wheel hit harder than others. Instead, his approach invites viewers to marvel at the quotidien wonders of human connection and disconnect. Bubbling beneath every interaction is a wistful melancholy, a perfectly balanced rotation showing how quickly giddiness can turn to grief, how beautifully regret can give way to revelation, how regularly possibility can be grasped, then lost, then regained in an instant.
These cycles beg us to question how much the trajectories of our lives are steered by fate and how much by free will. Much like the finest short stories and the most mind-bending parables offer far more questions than easy answers, all three of these tiny fables leave huge gaps into which audiences are invited to seek and find themselves. Hamaguchi’s main message is that there is abundant mysterious potential in every mundane moment. It’s an enduring truth from which the overwhelming rush of everyday life often distracts us. As much about choice as it is about chance, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy gently urges us to pay focused attention to the repetitions and rhythms of the ride.