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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » 9 Souls
9 Souls
Artsmagic DVD // Unrated // January 25, 2005
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Carl Davis | posted January 10, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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P R I N T
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Toshiaki Toyada's 9 Souls is a perfect example of why the Japanese and Asian Film market is so on fire right now. Where else could you see a film about a prison break and follow 9 escaped inmates on a funny and heartbreaking spiritual journey to find the "key to the Universe" which lies buried in a Time Capsule under an elementary school? Certainly not in any Hollywood film these days, but if you did I'm sure that some studio exec would make the "key to the Universe" something other than the metaphor that we all know it to be. There are so many sublime moments in this film that even it's overly long running time (2+ hours) is excusable.

Admittedly, the idea of following around 9 escaped convicts doesn't seem that appealing. If this had been an American film I'm sure that at least one of them would have been innocent, but the men we're following have actually committed their crimes (murder, dealing, counterfeiting) and are dutifully serving their time. We're introduced to these 9 convicts through the eyes of Michiru, a young man who is just beginning his sentence for the murder of his father. The other felon is the de-facto leader of the group, Torakichi, has been imprisoned for the murder of his son. Possibly due to their crimes, Michiru and Torakichi equally attract and repel each other, as though seeing their victim in the other and looking for a connection, and possibly redemption.

Shortly after Michiru's arrival, a fellow prisoner known as the Counterfeit King confides that he has hidden the "key to the Universe" before going completely mad and being removed from the cell. A dwarf, Dr. Shiratori (Mame Yamada), who assisted people with committing suicide, refers to himself as an Escape Artist, and true to his nature, he is able to find a route out of the prison. Upon escaping, all 9 convicts are in for the quest to find the King's "key", which many feel could only be the vast fortune in counterfeit bills he left behind.

The prisoners crimes range from minor (Drug Dealer, Pornographer) to major (Murder) and the subject of these felonies is handled rather humorously, since it seems that they determine the pecking order for the group. After a quick decision by Torakichi that has the 9 disguise themselves as a traveling band of Shaolin Monks, they are able to jack a dilapidated RV from an unsuspecting motorist. Since 9 Souls is as much about the mental journey as it is the physical, the Logo and name on the side ("Lucky Hole") provides a foreshadowing element to the latter part of the story.

Don't get me wrong, the physical journey is a lot of fun, too. There are several nice set pieces that Toyada provides to flesh out our group of 9. Immediately after getting their wheels, Torakichi looks up an old "friend" whose new bride is none too happy about these uninvited guests and threatens to return to the Philippines. A pit stop near a grazing pasture provides some cons a chance to relieve their pent up tension with a sheep. Even eating on the run is a hassle, as the escapees enjoy a meal out disguised as women, only to find they are short a few yen. The comedy in these scenes is heightened by the character's situations and while there are plenty of laughs, they aren't at the character's expense, making the second half of the film even more powerful.

It's this second half of the film that truly shows Toyada's greatness, after all, what's an escape movie without some consequences? Everything in 9 Souls after the discovery of the Time Capsule deals with the dissolution of the group and how they try to return to their previous lives with often unexpected and heartbreaking results. Granted, the rapid pace of the film combined with the size of the cast means that some of the characters get shortchanged in the back-story department, but even so, the results of each of these intimate, personal stories is amazing and well worth the journey.

Of special note is the amazing Soundtrack that Toyada has out together for 9 Souls. The Original Instrumental Rock Score is completely integrated into the film, somehow remaining atmospheric, while still impacting on the viewer (certain instances continue to give me goose bumps just thinking about them…). I can't think of another example of a recent Soundtrack that has so enthralled me with its sweep and scope. The only lyrical track is the theme song by the band dip, which runs over the end credits. Toyada is a highly gifted filmmaker who further enhances his visual storytelling with a Score just as evocative and powerful.

The DVD:

Picture: The film is presented in a 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and looks great, with a sharp, clear image and little to no grain present.

Audio: The Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix sounds terrific, and as much as the movie relies on its unique Soundtrack, dialogue is heard clearly and distinctly. The English subs are spot on and easy to read throughout.

Extras: Included as Extras on this DVD are an Audio Commentary by Tom Mes, the recurring Japanese Cinema expert on these Artsmagic discs, interviews with director Toshiaki Toyoda, Cast/Crew Biographies, a Stills Gallery and the Original Theatrical Trailer.

Conclusion: 9 Souls is a winner! While not everything Toyada tries in the film works, the sheer audacity of the project and the feelings he drags out of the viewer are testaments to his talent. While this film certainly isn't for everyone, it will still sadly fail to reach a wide appreciative audience. Still, those that do see it are bound to be affected and will hopefully mention it to a friend. With only four films to his credit, and just one other available in the US (Blue Spring), Toyada seems to be hitting his stride and is a rising star to watch in the future.

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