Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy ★★★★½

Hamaguchi's literary cinema continues to pay dividends with rich character portraits filled with small observations, little ironies and a mastery of moral and existential ambiguity that seems to be missing these days from actual literature. This triptych of narratively unrelated stories is united by a shared interest in the way that misunderstandings, chance, and the unpredictability of human connection that leaves plenty of space for characters to be redefined just as quickly as you get to know them, and even for pivotal moments to be played out in multiple ways imagined and actual. Consider how the man who becomes an inadvertent point in a love triangle in the first segment is first defined in glowingly romantic terms by a potential new girlfriend whose monologue is so infectiously starry-eyed that Hamaguchi films it in one take, only for us to meet him by way of his ex, who brings out a cold rejection in the man that is shocking despite the fact that the preconceived image of him comes entirely from a third party. Or how the nervous energy in the second segment as a woman attempts to seduce a professor to get him fired shifts from discomfort to a more mutually suggestive erotica. Then there's the final story, one of the most sublime things released this year, a potentially harrowing social faux-pas that ends up giving two people the freedom to confess long-repressed feelings. Hamaguchi was already one of the best of a new crop of filmmakers; he didn't need to put out two masterpieces in one year to cement it, but it was nice of him to do so.