One of two new Hamaguchi movies. I wasn’t over the moon like I was with Asako, but these kinds of dramas are refreshing, and he’s playing with the same kinds of identity issues, and his next one is a Haruki Murakami adaptation, so I should keep up with these.

No time or screenshots, so briefly, it’s three 40-minute short stories. First, Hyunri likes a new guy, tells her model friend Kotone Furukawa about it in a cab, Kotone realizes it’s her ex Ayumu Nakajima and confronts him at his office. Next, a bitter ex-student of an award-winning professor Kiyohiko Shibukawa (a minor Miike regular) sends his girlfriend Katsuki Mori to seduce the prof and get him into trouble, which ends up fucking over everyone involved. Finally, after a megavirus has knocked out the internet (!), former classmates attend actual reunions again instead of liking/blocking each other on facebook. Kawai Aoba sees old friend Urabe Fusako and their catchup meeting turns into wistful reminiscence and play-acting when it turns out they never knew each other.

Vadim Rizov in Filmmaker:

Wheel is greater than the sum of its individual stories, building an intricate system of echoes across three stories of frustrated relationships, each told in three or four long scenes, primarily in prolonged interior exchanges between two characters … the structure and tone were directly inspired by Eric Rohmer’s 1995, three-part anthology film Rendez-vous in Paris.

Rotterdance! Premiered at Cannes 2018, showed up at Rotterdam at the end of its festival run, opened in NYC in May then slid onto video in November.

Cute girl Asako meets shaggy guy Baku. He’s a bit quiet and mysterious, and she hardly says anything, just looks curious. They hang out together with her friend Haruyo and his friend Okazaki. They are sweet and young and that’s all there is. “Six months later, Baku said he was going to buy shoes and never came back”

Two years later Asako works at a coffee place and spots Salaryman Ryohei, who looks just like Baku, but is no Baku, neither quiet not mysterious. They hang out with her actress roommate Maya and his amateur acting critic friend Kushihashi, who just tears her apart after they watch one of her performances. Asako is drawn to this fake Baku but torn about the whole thing, runs away, comes back the night of the March 2011 earthquake. I’ve got nothing but plot description, but it’s unusually gripping for this sort of dramatic film – every scene is good. It’s no wonder Hamaguchi’s Happy Hour popped up on decade-best lists.

Five years later, he’s moved up at work, she’s still at the coffee shop, and they’ve been together since the quake, when Haruyo shows up, and the movie takes a flying leap into melodrama (my notes during this section just say “holy shit this can’t be happening”). Baku comes back for her, the night before she and Ryohei are moving into a house together, in the middle of a farewell dinner, and she goes with him – then changes her mind along the way, but Ryohei might never trust her again. “I always had a feeling this would happen. That guy with the same face keeps haunting me.”

Baku I & II:

Would watch Asako III & IV. Cowritten with one of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s regular screenwriters, and Baku/Ryohei Masahiro Higashide starred in his Creepy (as the detective’s ex-partner) and Foreboding. Haruyo was in Lesson of Evil, and Kushihashi was in some Ju-on and Ring sequels. In competition at Cannes the year of Shoplifters and Burning and Ash Is Purest White – tough crowd.

Hamaguchi summarizes his career to date in a Filmmaker interview.

Lawrence Garcia: (I thought the autotune song was horrendous, but this is still good)

Like Karata’s unexpected performance, the film is opaque in ways both confounding and thrilling, as if internalizing one character’s advice not to over-interpret. Equally adept with subtle, naturalistic sketches (a visit to a seafood festival in a far-flung town) and well-timed bursts of emotion (an offered hand and a rising auto-tuned anthem to stop your heart)…

Josh Cabrita, who compares it to Rohmer’s Winter’s Tale:

Asako I & II sets up and throws out stylistic paradigms faster than you can grab hold of them. As if to maximize the frustration of viewers who prefer to distinguish the fantastic from the “real,” Hamaguchi’s amorphous aesthetic — blending naturalistic and affected performances, unobtrusive and flashy editing — renders inseparable inner and outer and public and private forms of experience.

Hamaguchi, who adds that Baku/Ryohei’s accents were different:

Employing [genre] conventions allowed the film to move a lot faster than usual without losing the audience. Those who don’t really understand those conventions might feel what is happening to be a little strange or even grotesque — or maybe a better expression is absurd, surrealist, or illogical. But one of the things I wanted to do was to have realism and surrealism coexisting: allowing something real to come out of this absurd situation, or to have some absurd quality rooted in the reality that we crafted.