Glücksrad / Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy

Director: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (Japan). Year of Release: 2021

A pair of women take a taxi home from a fashion shoot. One of them, Tsugumi, is going on about the bloke she met the day before at a meeting that turned into a date, which (if I’ve done my sums right) ended at 4 in the morning. Her mate, Meiko, seems increasingly uncomfortable. This may well be because Meiko isn’t used to spending so long without being able to get a word in. There’s also the thing that the more Tsugumi gets excited, the more boring it gets to anyone outside.

So, we’re starting the film wondering just why the first main scene has been allowed to drag on for just so long. Soon we get our answer. When Tsugumi leaves the cab, still floating on a cloud of expectation, Meiko tells the driver to turn right around and go back the way they’d come. It turns out that Tsugumi’s inconsiderate ex, who we’ve just been hearing a lot about, is Meiko, and it’s time for her to pay a visit to Kazuaki, her former boyfriend.

Meiko and Kazuaki verbally dance around each other, never making it fully explicit whether they still hold a mutual flame for each other, or that it’s so over and they never want to see each other ever again. Then, 3 days later, Meiko and Tsugumi are chatting in a café when Kasuaki strolls passed the window. Tsugumi beckons him in. Meiko is allowed a Sliding Doors type moment to react in two different ways, neither of which is particularly happy for her.

Nao is a mature student who is sleeping with a younger man Sasaki. Sasaki is having difficulties completing his course, after Professor Segawa failed him for French (one of the compulsory courses). Segawa has just published a best selling book and is all over the media. Sasaki tries to inveigle Nao into a honey trap to bring down his nemesis. He threatens that if she does not comply, he won’t sleep with her again.

[Things you learn by chance. Today’s German subtitles for honey trap was Venus Falle, or Venus Trap. As in Venus Fly Trap. Can anyone who’s out there who knows about these things let me know if this is really a Thing or whether it’s a subtitle writer with an overactive imagination?]

Nao visits the Prof and reads to him erotic passages from his book. The plan is that she’s recording their conversation on her phone, and is just waiting for him to say something inappropriate that she can sell to the tabloids. But he makes sure that they meet in his office and that the door remains open throughout. At one stage, she shuts the door, and he approaches her, looking as if he is about to pounce. But his outstretched arm goes not towards her, but to reopen the door.

As the drama continues, it becomes clear that Nao is more excited by Professor Segawa than she is by her deadbeat boyfriend. It’s not at all clear whether she is motivated by the desire to embarrass the Prof, or by just plain desire. In a coda to the film, Nao and Sasaki meet again on the bus. They are now long separated and he is about to marry someone else. We learn that due to a coincidence (or was it?) the Prof got sacked anyway, despite doing nothing wrong.

Moka visits a school reunion. She barely recognises anyone and doesn’t look interested in getting to know any of the attendees any better. After some embarrassed chat with one person, she leaves on her own. Later, getting the escalator to the subway, she double-takes, seeing a woman who she recognises on the opposite escalator. After a bit of kerfuffle going up and down the escalators, the other woman, Nana, invites Moka back to her house where she’s expecting a delivery.

Moka is convinced that Nana is her first love, a woman she met at school. Nana is insistent that Moka is mistaken. Nonetheless each attempts to reassure the other woman by playing out roles of someone from their past. There is some subplot which is something to do with a computer virus erasing memory that presumably has important metaphoric value, but doesn’t obviously affect the actual plot much.

Three separate stories, featuring quite different characters played by quite different actors. In case there’s any doubt, each story starts with opening credits and ends with the cast list. And yet there are a number of themes covered by all 3 short stories (which is what they essentially are) – love, betrayal, coincidence and lies. These are also all stories which foreground how woman act and are affected by the actions of others.

Above all, this is a film with a number of unreliable authors. Characters often make statements that we know to be untrue, and occasionally say things which may or may not correspond to reality. I have read reviews of the film which boldly claim that something has happened, which is contradicted by another review. I don’t believe that either review is necessarily correct. Director Hamaguchi sometimes leaves it open to us to choose the reality we prefer. It is fiction, after all.

I must say that, for me, the second story, Door Wide Open, works much less well than the other two, and I’m struggling to understand why. Maybe it’s the opening in which Sasaki convinces Nao to betray a professor she respects. This is generally a film which shows strong, if flawed, women. It seems a bit of an anomaly that Nao goes along with Sasaki’s plot as much as she does. Nonetheless, the acting is universally superb, and this is a truly intelligent film worth watching.

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