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Solving the Puzzle


Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2021)

What makes “Asako I & II” so immensely captivating is how its characters make spur-of-the-moment choices that generate life-altering reverberations. For his follow-up, writer-director Ryusuke Hamaguchi has seemingly taken a figurative page from the book of Tomoka Shibasaki, from whose novel “Asako I & II” is adapted. Winner of the Silver Bear at the 71st Berlinale, Mr. Hamaguchi’s “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” is a triptych of short films continuing the exploration of fate, impulse and doppelgängers that Ms. Shibasaki commenced. Except in these tales the rash decisions are triggered by anger or longing, which only make them truer to life.

In the first segment, in a shared cab ride home following a fashion shoot, Tsugumi (Hyunri) confides in her bestie Meiko (Kotone Furukawa) about a chance encounter with a promising suitor, Kazuaki (Ayumu Nakajima). In the next, Professor Segawa (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) humiliates pupil Nao (Katsuki Mori) in the other students’ full view. The third has tomboyish Natsuko Higuchi (Aoba Kawai) dropping by her high school reunion and barely conversing with anyone. To elaborate more on these would be spoiling the fun, because these tales are absolutely wild and one would never guess where they are headed minute by minute.

They are also each very efficient. In one extremely brief scene, Natsuko makes a stop at one of her old haunts for lunch and has a chat with the proprietor. The scene strikes as tangential, much like the central couple’s excursion to assist in the post-Tohoku-earthquake recovery efforts in “Asako I & II.” Seemingly random, these little vignettes add such rich depths and contexts to the characters and proceedings that we come to care about them deeply. That’s no small feat, especially given the short span of each segment.

The twists and turns Mr. Hamaguchi devises never feel contrived, because people do act irrationally and spontaneously in real life. The film seems so realistic precisely because life is unpredictable. Finally with the third segment, he concludes that the fluidity of our life journeys and interpersonal connections is really due to need and not kismet – we all have roles in each other’s lives played out on the world’s stage. It’s brilliant, profound and truly affecting.


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