Nine inmates begin a small detour towards the inevitable after escaping from prison. Each individual, incarcerated for a different crime, takes their chance at life outside of the box and take the initiative to find happiness once again.
Surely many of us have had the pleasure of viewing a Toshiaki Toyoda film, most likely BLUE SPRING (Aoi Haru), and after reading many different thoughts and opinions, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of us have been more than happy with his work. Sure Toyoda is still young, but that’s just it. He has that special ability to connect with much of the younger generation -- whether you are Japanese or not. There is definitely an overall sense of growth and maturity since his last effort, so imagine how much this will increase in the upcoming years.
In 9 SOULS, we follow a group of nine escapees who try to re-claim there own sense of freedom. Each of the men have been jailed for a different crime, whether it be murder, drugs, underage sex or general misdeeds. But these guys are simply not meant for the outside world, and once they are out, they end up getting into all kinds of bad situations that sometimes have even worse repercussions. After viewing the film, I get the feeling that Toyoda is an existentialist. In his films he tends to give off that notion, so if he is, then that would surely explain a lot because the overall theme of the film is similar to that of BLUE SPRING and PORNOSTAR -- one being full of the individual’s plight towards ownership of actions in a world in which the threshold between good and bad is blurred.
While initially, 9 SOULS feels lighter, it is only in the first half of the film that we are treated to a more comedic approach. This was somewhat of a new twist on things for our young director, but it worked out quite well because of how much it aided the difficult, yet vital, character development. We come to understand the intricacies of each individual’s psychology through the scenes of comedy. (Obviously one can’t go too in-depth seeing as there are nine central characters and the film is less than two hours long.) Once you reach the second half though, things change. Sunny skies transition into sudden storms, ominously foreshadowing things to come. The comedic approach is gone, and all we are left with is pure and powerful, raw emotion. It isn’t until then that we realize how much we have been affected by each of the characters as we see these terrible things begin to unfold. Because of this it is important to note that this film gets better with repeat viewings.
The cast is a phenomenal team whose chemistry simply cannot be matched. Everyone from the great seasoned Yoshio Harada (ONIBI, HUNTER IN THE DARK) and Akaji Maro (THE MOST TERRIBLE TIME IN MY LIFE, KIKUJIRO and father of ICHI THE KILLER’s Nao Omori) to the younger, but equally amazing, Koji Chihara (PORNOSTAR, YOUNG THUGS: INNOCENT BLOOD) and Ryuhei Matsuda (BLUE SPRING, GOHATTO) offered excellent and memorable performances. Each of the other actors offered so much to the overall feel of the story, so it is difficult to imagine this film being made any better with different actors thanks to Toyoda’s talented direction. Even the not so well known stars were successfully molded into their respected characters with the utmost believability. A prime example of that would have to be Mame Yamada (who is actually a magician) and the large amount of heart he displayed with his character, Shiratori, the master escapist -- definitely the most memorable of the film.
9 SOULS was Toyoda’s chance to work with many of his actors for a second time. He had used Koji Chihara, Kee and Akaji Maro in PORNOSTAR and Ryuhei Matsuda and Mame Yamada in BLUE SPRING. The only actor who has worked in more than one film with him previously is Onimaru.
As with Toyoda’s previous work, the music was part of what made the whole film so memorable. And no, we do not have Thee Michelle Gun Elephant this time, but I assure you that you will be just as pleased. On the more technical side, Junichi Fujisawa’s cinematography was beautifully proportioned and thought out, and Mototaka Kusakabe’s editing was as fluid as it gets. Everything was right on the money and it’s because of all these contributions that 9 SOULS worked out as well as it did.
Inspiring to say the least, it is a movie like this that retains the ability to rekindle and accentuate one’s love for cinema. Rarely do we get the chance to truly bask in a somber film and all of its existentialities. Thank god somebody has the balls to make one like this.
9 SOULS comes in anamorphic widescreen and contains nearly flawless English subtitles. Artsmagic added a few sub par special features, which include two interviews with director Toshiaki Toyoda. One of which is full of ridiculously embarrassing questions (i.e. What did you think of THE LAST SAMURAI? or How does today’s Japanese youth feel about the samurai code?). We are also blessed with yet another drab commentary by Tom Mes (somebody give that guy some caffeine!), as well as a few trailers and cast information. The picture and sound really do the film justice. With that in mind and the flawless English subs, it has truly makes this one worth the wait.