9 Souls (2003)
By: CJ on January 7, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Artsmagic (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 120 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Toshiaki Toyoda
Starring: Kee, Takuji Suzuki, Mame Yamada, Koji Chihara, Ryuhei Matsuda, Yoshio Harada, Genta Dairaku, Itsuji Itao and Onimaru
Screenplay: Toshiaki Toyoda
Country: Japan
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.

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 whatsoever.
Video
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.
Audio
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.
Extra Features
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.
The Verdict
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.
Movie Score
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