|9 Souls (2003)
| Artsmagic (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 120 minutes
9 Souls is Toshiaki Toyoda's
follow-up film after the excellent Blue
Spring – and to say that 9
Souls surpasses it in every respect, would
be a gross understatement. It is, quite simply,
one of the most amazing films I have ever seen and
shows Toyoda to be a fine director who just seems
to get better and better.
Starring: Kee, Takuji
Suzuki, Mame Yamada, Koji Chihara, Ryuhei Matsuda,
Yoshio Harada, Genta Dairaku, Itsuji Itao and
9 Souls tells the tale of nine
Japanese prison inmates who find a way to escape
from their enforced confinement and who subsequently
go on the run. En route they pick up a camper
van and in order to buy supplies and eat at restaurants
they have to don all manner of disguises –
at one point even dressing up in drag in order
to eat in a café. One by one, the group
dwindles as each follows their own path, trying
to make sense of their lives and trying to come
to terms with the crimes they have each committed.
There's also an underlying sub-plot about
finding a stash of money that they were told about
by another inmate, but this proves to be something
of a red herring – as you'll find
out when you watch it for yourselves.
That, in a nutshell, is the whole synopsis. It's
very difficult to convey the power of the film,
as it's an almost entirely audio-visual
ride. This film needs to be experienced rather
than simply viewed and heard, and describing it
is near impossible. It has a rhythm all of its
own and a sense of the poetic – a talent
that most directors would die for. Toyoda's
direction is faultless and his music choices flawless
– the disparate elements all blend into
a cohesive whole, even the more absurd plot elements
are perfectly in tune with the vibe of the film.
But don't go in expecting Miike style violence
or a pounding adventure movie, this is a deeply
emotive human drama. Each of the nine inmate's
go in search of the lives they left behind, only
to find that mere fragments of it remain and that
old friendships and romances have long since dissolved.
This is a hostile world that simply doesn't
want them and has no room for them. Whilst incarcerated
the world has moved on – and it's
this sense of being out of place and out of time
that pervades the whole movie. There is no longer
a place for them in the lives they once knew,
and sometimes the results of finding this out
end in tragedy.
9 Souls is an exceptional film
and one that deserves as wide an audience as possible.
However, I expect that the film may be too subtle
and too slow for some people, but if you have
a love of Japanese cinema or fancy being a little
adventurous, then you absolutely must see this
film. Everything about it is just perfect –
the cast, the music, the direction, the locations.
I really can't fault this film in any way
|The transfer used by Artsmagic is superb. The
image is sharp with good detail and the colours
remain consistent throughout with no evidence of
digital 'smearing' or artifacting whatsoever.
Framed at 1.85:1 with anamorphic enhancement it's
hard to imagine that this could look any better
than it does here.
|The audio track provided is a Japanese 5.1 surround
and the soundmix is just right. It's not a
film that requires blistering audio dynamics and
this audio mix is more than satisfactory. Also provided
are clear and easy-to-read English subtitles.
|Artsmagic provide a generous helping of supplementary
features which include two very in-depth on-camera
interviews with director Toshiaki Toyoda, the press
kit, theatrical trailer, bios and filmographies
and a full-length audio commentary from Japanese
film expert Tom Mes. Not a bad package all told
and it's nice to see Artsmagic giving films
like this the attention they deserve.
|I found this to be a strangely exhilarating viewing
experience and I cannot recommend 9 Souls highly enough. It's a little odd, because
usually I would shy away from films of this nature,
as I am, at heart, a horror fan – yet this
film drew me right in and had me captive from start
to finish, and with a 2 hour running time that's
no easy task. It's hard to pinpoint exactly
what it is about 9 Souls that makes
it so amazing – it's difficult to articulate.
I guess, if I analyse it closely, it's a film
that you'll connect to completely or you won't.
I would imagine that if you can't connect
to it, then you'll find it an extremely tedious
film – but if you can connect to it, it's
a richly rewarding viewing experience. So…decide
for yourselves. I can only speak for myself –
and I thought it was excellent, and I look forward
to more from director Toshiaki Toyoda.