Berlin: Hamaguchi Ryūsuke follows “Asako I & II” with a triptych of thematically related but extremely unpredictable shorts on coincidence.

Short stories often don’t get the respect they deserve, and short films – which the film industry has deemed worthless rather than figuring out how to monetize – often get no respect at all. Unless several of them are wrapped to look like an item, like three kids stacked on top of each other inside a trench coat and trying to impersonate one adult.

A playful triptych of self-contained vignettes (with their own credit blocks) that are linked by a shared fascination with memory, coincidence, and the deep truths that shallow lies tend to uncover, Hamaguchi Ryūsuke is wonderfully alluring.Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy“is neither fish nor poultry. It looks more like a single movie than a trio of smaller ones that have been put together into a makeshift anthology, but the end product is only greater than the sum of its parts because let Hamaguchi understand that the best short fiction isn’t just a travel-size version of something bigger. On the contrary, the short stories he tells here are so delicious because they work in a way that ” long ‘do not have.

This is the difference between a periscope and a panorama, because Hamaguchi’s tunnel vision frees his characters from the pedantry of everyday logic. Looking at the world through such a narrow lens, the same twists and turns that might sound like cheap screenwriting in a feature film are suddenly endowed with the authority of fact; the rom-com kismet of an unconscious Tokyo woman who falls in love with her best friend’s ex (it’s a big city!) isn’t just something that happens to people we meet in scenes from opening of “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy”, which is why they all exist in the first place.

A natural progression for an emerging author whose previous wins include 317-minute “Happy Hour” and the Hall of Mirrors romantic drama “Asako I & II” (both unabashedly Rohmerian in their own right), “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy “is another half-charmed slice of life by Hamaguchi about modern Japanese women divided against themselves. This one is just as static and chatty as fans expect; grounded in his reality to two actors in a play, but also charming and unpredictable in the way he comes out like a tooth coming loose.

“Wheel of fortune and fantasy”

The first chapter – cryptically dubbed “Episode 1: Magic (or something less certain”) – kicks off with a scalene love triangle full of sharp angles. Meiko (Furukawa Kotone, last year’s star titled “Any Crybabies Around?”) Is a model who is used to being the center of attention, and even in the backseat of a cab with her best friend Tsugumi (Hyunri), we feel it hurts to sit there and listen to someone else talk for 15 minutes about a guy they just met. We don’t know half of it. By a stroke of luck from the universe, the Tsugumi’s new crush just happens to be Meiko’s ex-boyfriend.

While Meiko lacks the heart to break the news to her friend, she also lacks the serenity not to confront her ex about it later that same night. What follows is an animated, funny, and insanely erratic scene of mutual self-immolation as Meiko and Kazuaki (Nakajima Ayumu) ​​engage in the kind of flame wars that can only break out between two exes who see hurt people as a solution to love each other. “Love is supposed to make people happy,” Meiko sighs. “I feel like a faulty product. “Me too,” Kazuaki replies. “I’m not even a dildo.” If only they realized how rare it is, given the vast spectrum of human emotions, to be in the exact same place as others you know.

But, as Tsugumi warns him earlier in the story, “Feeling comfortable is not the same as romance,” and the following chapters of “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” draw their addictively marbled eros. of their most uncomfortable moments of friction. “Episode 2: Door Wide Open” begins as a boring revenge plot about a college student who wants to catch his least favorite teacher in a honey trap, but crystallizes into something much stranger when the child convinces the married woman older one he sleeps with (Mori Katsuki as Nao) to be the bait.

Sexually charged but dripping with “Curb Your Enthusiasm” – levels of tongue-in-cheek tension, the scene where Nao confronts Professor Segawa (played Shibukawa Kiyohiko, star of such deliciously films titled “Touching the Skin of the Strange” and “Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine”) in her office at the University of Tokyo and offers her an unsolicited reading of her award-winning erotic novel is Hamaguchi at its best, while comedy lowbrow blushed in noble wisdom in a way Nao could never have expected.

One minute she reads a line like “She treated my testicles like a little bird with a broken wing,” and the next minute she eagerly accepts the teacher’s advice on how to overcome the stagnant precepts of Japanese social mores and to embrace its own worth. The initial mistrust of their meeting (the professor won’t even look Nao in the eye) turns into a veritable cascade of reversals, each of which makes Hamaguchi’s mumblecore aesthetic less distant for his lack of choice, and more valuable for his senses. of infinite possibility. Leave the right doors open in life and you don’t know who might come in.

“Wheel of fortune and fantasy”

If the dot-dash-dot structure of this second episode finds Hamaguchi using time to complicate and quantify scenes that might otherwise be played out in a black box theater, the film’s third and final story (“Once Again”) allows him to take things just a step further and spin the “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” off its axis. Set in an alternative today where an email virus called Xeron has forced everyone to log off, this segment isn’t pushing too hard for a “sci-fi” designation (the most dramatic evidence of the crisis is that a kid has to buy their anime on Blu-ray because the streaming services are down) but Hamaguchi imbues the short film with a sense of oblivion akin to running away, as if the world has delegated their collective memory to the cloud and people don’t remember who they are without a WiFi connection.

It starts when a woman named Natsuko (Urabe Fusako) arrives in Sendai for her 20-year college reunion, and flies off in a new direction when she meets an uninvited former classmate (Kawai Aoba , also from “Touching the Skin Fame of Eeriness”). As with the other two episodes, “Once Again” begins slowly and pushes to the limits of banality before a sudden wrinkle in time takes you. snatch from your seat.

Seen individually, these moments look like the odd whims of the universe, but the way they reverberate across Hamaguchi’s three stories suggests nothing less than the fullness of life flowing through the bland canvas that tends to loom overhead. ‘obscure. Try as they might to suppress feelings that they cannot relegate to the past or prevent from blossoming in the future, the people we meet in “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” the world stops spinning. Like us, all they can do is enjoy whatever can happen next.

Rating: B +

“Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” presented in competition in 2021 Berlin International Film Festival. He is currently seeking distribution in the United States.

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