Broken into three segments related solely by their penchant for role-playing characters, the film takes more than two hours to immerse us in the lives of several women in Japan. Each story ends with a short credit sequence to ensure we don’t waste time trying to put the characters together. Like other anthology series, some parts work better than others. But even when the quality has dropped a bit, we’re consistently interested. All three stories are full of complexities that avoid simple characterization and summation.
Each episode has a clever title that warrants introspection once the story ends. The first of the three, “Magic (Or Something Less Assuring),” opens with an exciting taxi ride shared by best friends Meiko (Furukawa Kotone) and Tsugumi (Hyunri). Hamaguchi let the journey take its course—the taxi seemed to be going round and round—but the conversation was so good that we didn’t want to end it. Tsugumi tells her boyfriend about the guy she dated the night before. As giddy details spill, Meiko feels an uneasy sense of familiarity—is it possible Tsugumi is talking about her ex-boyfriend, Kazuaki (Nakajima Ayumu)? Meiko visits him and discovers that he is indeed the man who captivated her best friend.
However, Kazuaki is not very honest in describing his previous relationship to Tsugumi, which leads Meiko to a brutal series of corrections, each of which Kazuaki denies. Hearing about your own breakup through someone else’s interpretation is a jarring concept, and Hamaguchi’s script presents an often frightening back and forth argument about the truth to maximum effect. Kotone has a very difficult role to play here, she is part angel seeking revenge, part injured and guilty ex-lover, and without strong writing, Meiko will appear as just a scorned woman who abuses her ex. He played with Kazuaki’s feelings, but he also expressed his own grievances about the relationship and what led him to cheat on him. Our loyalties swing between Meiko and Kazuaki as tensions rise. Tensions run high when three of them accidentally end up at the same restaurant. Will Meiko pretend she doesn’t know her ex-lover, or will she blow up the situation and make collateral damage from Tsugumi?
The second episode, “Door Wide Open,” features an older woman, Nao (Mori Katsuki) who becomes involved in an affair with a younger student, Sasaki (Kai Shouma). Sasaki is first seen pleading with his teacher Segawa (Shibukawa Kiyohiko) not to disappoint him. Segawa didn’t budge, leaving Sasaki to miss several future opportunities. In revenge, he convinces Nao to lure Segawa into a “honeytrap” and then exposes him, thereby ruining the new fame Segawa has gained from his hit novel. It won’t be as easy either of them think, as the teacher is so adamant about leaving the door open that no one can assume anything untoward happened in his office.
Nao told Sasaki about the profound effect a certain chapter of Segawa’s book had on him. That was what he would use in his plan to lure the unsuspecting professor into his erotic trap. Hamaguchi lets us hear this entire section of the book, a torrent of delicious poop read in a tour-de-force performance by Katsuki. He was very kind at times when he had to dampen his appearance because of the open office door. Segawa was turned on, but not as we or Nao expected. Here is an interesting verbal dance between the two actors. The story culminates in two ironic twists that make this a most interesting one.
The final episode, “Once Again,” also has a twist that I won’t reveal, except to say that it makes for a very poignant and touching exploration of the characters’ pasts. The story of two classmates, Nana (Kawai Aoba) and Moka (Urabe Fusako), who reunite after a high school reunion, “Once Again” begins as an exploration of a set of memories only to bend towards a newer, possible series produced. of events. Every woman is aware of the ruse at their disposal, choosing to be as creative as possible in serving purely therapeutic and cathartic results. Hamaguchi uses the train station as a meeting point and departure point for his characters, evoking the emotional way this location has been used in many old Hollywood melodramas. Aoba and Fusako are excellent, each leading half of the sketch, making fiction a lot happier than it really is.
“Wheel of Luck and Fantasy” is a love letter to the art of spinning good yarn, but it’s also a song of praise that is keenly observed to the lies and truths we tell ourselves so that we can function from day to day. Hamaguchi leaves each story somewhat open, giving the illusion that this life will continue once our attention is turned to the next narrative. A week after I saw this film, I’m still thinking about the character.