Year 2021 saw the completion of two new films by the master of contemporary Japanese cinema, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, of which Drive My Car, a Chekhov treatise starting its triumphant run from the Cannes Film Festival, ended up winning an Oscar. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, which he worked on concurrently, premiered a few months earlier in competition at the 71st Berlin International Film Festival, receiving the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize. Here, instead of a three-hour story, Hamaguchi opts for three mid-length cinematic novellas where, as the title suggests, chance meets imagination – with a dash of mystery.
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is a triptych of encounters leading in surprising directions. It centres on women of various ages and the consequences of their choices: In the first story, a young model is caught up in a love triangle; in the second part, a thirtysomething housewife tries to please her lover by seducing his professor as a form of revenge; and the third episode is a story of two middle-aged former high school classmates who meet by chance.
From his idols, Rohmer and Cassavetes, Hamaguchi has learned the skill of driving a dialogue-rich narrative that builds its tension from character interaction while, together with his cast, forging his characters into believable and multifaceted people. His laconic descriptiveness is tinged by both playfulness and cuts reaching deep into the heart.
Attracting massive worldwide success this past year, the Japanese Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (b. 1978) already gained attention in his home country with his graduation film Passion (2008) and the documentary trilogy co-directed with Kô Sakai portraying the survivors of the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Hamaguchi’s scale spans from short films to five-hour relationship dramas. Apart from Drive My Car (2021), which won the Oscar for Best International Feature Film and Best Screenplay award at Cannes, his best-known films are Asako I & II (2018) (also screened at our festival), and Happy Hour (2015), which brought its four amateur leading ladies the joint Best Actress award at the Locarno Film Festival. (Suvi Heino)