A Wonderful World of What-ifs: A Conversation with Ryusuke Hamaguchi

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The director discusses his film "Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy," and his approach to rehearsals, melodrama, comedy, and trauma in his work.

By Lukasz Mankowski

Premiering during a virtual edition of this year’s Berlinale, where it was awarded the Silver Bear, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is a three-short-tale drama that encapsulates an imaginative trajectory of what-ifs. An intermingling of fantasy and coincidence plunges the audience into: a triangle dramedy between the two now-lovers and one ex-lover, grasped in a narrative of loops that should find its fans among both Kiarostami and Hong Sang-soo aficionados; a seduction-attempt-gone-wrong, with an unexpected twist that evokes the essence of Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s prose of uncanny eroticism; and a reconfiguration of the Japanese motif of passing each other by (surechigai) set in a seemingly post-pandemic reality, where the two women fall for each other’s expectations to be someone else.

Hamaguchi’s style is a real treat to indulge. His Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is crafted with precision towards the dialog and its delivery, abound in almost Brechtian theatricality, but what stands out the most is his ability to remain both somewhat firm and delicate towards the characters and their feelings. This is because Hamaguchi reaps wonders out of the emotional subsoil of his actors and manages to seize something of pure beauty in the wheel of repetition. Having the privilege to talk with him, we went through his detailed process of preparing his film’s moodscape for intimacy and empathy. Through a network of mutual and rather extensive reliance—that is, between the director, his actors, the environment they strive for, and the lines, first written, then spoken—Hamaguchi is able to establish a bridge between the audience and the substance of his film. The words say it all. The connection comes with the lines, embedded in corporeal reiterations; they take the audience’s eye by surprise. All of the sudden, we feel very close, as if spellbound; intimate to the bodies that speak, and the mood the words evoke. No one has such tenderness towards the human component in modern Japanese cinema. To invoke Nobel-recipient novelist Olga Tokarczuk’s words, if we have a view on the world, it is Hamaguchi among the Japanese filmmakers who has a sense of it.

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