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Mysterious dubs tend to occur and recur in the work of brilliant Japanese writer-director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, one of the most exciting filmmaking talents to emerge in recent years. His work, which gained international notoriety with his epic and intimate ensemble drama “Happy Hour” (2015), showed a constant fascination with the nature of chance, the way coincidences slip into (apparent) banality. Daily. That idea reached a zenith of sorts in his 2018 feature film, “Asako I & II,” a skillfully tweaked love story that’s chock-full of real and imagined doppelgängers.
And so there is something oddly fitting in the fact that, through the vagaries of fate (and the production upheavals of the COVID-19 pandemic), Hamaguchi has emerged with not one but two notable novelties this year. I’ll have more to say about “Drive My Car,” its nearly three-hour elaboration of a Haruki Murakami short story, when it hits theaters in November. The one under review this week, “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy,” provides a contrasting but strangely complementary experience with the form of the short story. A triptych of poignant, sometimes piercing tales, each based on chance encounters and romantic possibilities (the original Japanese title translates to “Coincidence and Imagination”), he finds Hamaguchi in a playful, seductive and gently touching form.
“Quietly” may not be strictly correct. Arriving several months after its award-winning premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival, “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy”, like many Hamaguchi films, is propelled by the endless, almost musical flow of its dialogue. Each roughly 40-minute episode takes the form of a predominantly two-character exchange, precisely shot (by Yukiko Iioka) and built around volleys of verbiage that bring together relaxed yet beautifully modulated waves of emotion. This sense of spontaneity is actually achieved through an extremely rigorous rehearsal process designed to remove all traces of false affect or emotion from the actors’ performance – a process reminiscent of the equally repetitive working methods of the late French master Robert Bresson, but whose on-screen effect is very specific to Hamaguchi.
In the first story, “Magic (or something less reassuring)”, this emotional restraint produces a surprising degree of tension. We are in the backseat of a cab with young Meiko (Kotone Furukawa), who listens intently as her friend Tsugumi (Hyunri) talks about a recent “magical” first date. Externally excited for her friend, Meiko betrays few nagging suspicions, which are confirmed once we meet the handsome magician in question, Kazuaki (Ayumu Nakajima). The unfortunate romantic coincidence at the heart of this thread challenges the changing nature of protagonists and antagonists, and the rigid assumptions we often make about who is who. “If there’s anyone wrong with this story, it’s you,” someone said to Meiko at one point. But as his alternately thoughtful and impulsive actions remind us, terms like right and wrong are far too reductive to be attributed to such messy and recognizable behavior.
“Magic (or Something Less Assuring)” is based, in part, on some confusion about names, a theme of mistaken identity that it shares with the other two stories. The next stop is “Door Wide Open”, which is dominated by an extraordinary meeting between a renowned teacher and author, Segawa (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), and a former student, Nao (Katsuki Mori), who visits his office and asks him about him. to dedicate. copy of his most recent novel. The possibility of an irregularity arises when Nao begins to read aloud an erotically laden passage from the book, although what these two equally lonely souls need from each other turns out to be something more mysterious and complicated than a sexual encounter. The nature of this need changes beautifully and almost imperceptibly as they talk, en route to an O. Henry-type prick in the tail.
Unlike its predecessors, the third and most touching story, “Once Again,” focuses on two women. It also takes place in a world that has been taken offline after a wave of debilitating computer viruses – a modest sci-fi vanity that allows this story’s extremely bizarre encounter. One day, two women (played by Aoba Kawai and Fusako Urabe) recognize each other on the escalators – an effortless visual metaphor for this film’s many wandering encounters – and spend the afternoon together, remembering their time in high school. . But the more they talk, the less they seem to understand, almost losing themselves and perhaps even themselves in a flood of memories, regrets and desires that are forbidden but not forgotten.
If that sounds blurry, it isn’t. Hamaguchi has traced this story with great precision and ingenuity, and that precision miraculously deepens, rather than belittles, the lost story that passes between these two women. The unforgettable closing image contains multitudes of emotions, and it throws the meaning of the three stories into a subtly clarifying relief: the past may be unrecoverable, but the present is always a gift.
“Wheel of fortune and fantasy”
In Japanese with English subtitles
Duration of operation: 2 hours, 1 minute
Playing: Starts October 15 at The Landmark, West Los Angeles