9 Souls

Touching on basic social issues such as loneliness and alienation, Toyoda’s film chronicles the daring escape of nine prison inmates. Their plan is not only to escape collectively, but also to find a treasure hidden inside a time capsule near Mt. Fuji. Their dream of finding a stash of money dissolves, however, when they learn that no such fortune exists. The get-rich-quick premise only serves as the groundwork for the real drama, a more human one, which unfolds slowly.

During the first half hour of the film, the director portrays the band of outlaws as a rowdy and goofy gang. But the tone of the movie turns when he begins to unravel the human tragedies and broken dreams that are buried in each individual’s soul. Toyoda tells a compassionate and at times heartbreaking tale of how his nine protagonists deal with their fate and uncertain futures. As the film progresses, so does the viewer’s empathy for each of the fugitives—the murderer, the thief, the robber, the drug dealer, the porn king, the terrorist, and others.

Each escapee has unfinished business they want to take care of, and the chance to set things right is the real treasure they’re searching for, though not all of the nine narratives resolves itself happily. Director Toshiaki Toyoda, who also wrote the script, doesn’t justify the crimes and mistakes of his lovable gang of anti-heroes. In most cases, he doesn’t explore why his protagonists committed their crimes, although he gives clues as to what might have driven them. Instead, he combines his heart-wrenching storylines with a mellow rock soundtrack and slow-motion camera shots that serve to emphasize the humanity that’s still alive in each one of his characters.

The cast is outstanding. While it’s difficult in the beginning to keep track of all the characters, during the course of the film each one emerges as a unique, and often eccentric, individual. Even the most abhorrent of them, played by veteran actor Yoshio Harada, discovers his kindness when he looks out for the weakest link of the group, Inui (Takuji Suzuki), who suffers from seizures.

Despite the drama, there are several bizarre, surreal, and amusing elements in the movie. In one memorable scene, the group discovers a strip joint in the middle of nowhere. The establishment serves as a haven for the gang members, who, for the first time, have a chance to reflect on their lives. This is also the moment when Shiratori (played by the wonderful Mame Yamada), who was born with dwarfism, reunites with his soulmate—a gorgeous showgirl to whom he donated one of his kidneys so that she could live a normal life.

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August 2007
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