“9 Souls” is Toshiaki Toyoda’s masterpiece

What began with “Pornostar” and “Blue Spring”, found its apogee in “9 Souls”, one of the greatest samples of Japanese indie cinema.

Nine convicts escape prison, since the tenth, Yamamoto, lost it just before a rat, which showed the others the way out appeared on their cell. The convicts have decided to search for a money stash hidden by Yamamoto and so they function as a team, despite the fact that they differ in age, crime and general background. Torakichi is the eldest and acts as the leader of the group. He has killed his own son. Kazuma is a young man, former member of a bike gang. He stabbed four members of his own gang. Inui is a bomber (of sorts) who suffers from epilepsy. Shiratory is a dwarf, and a doctor who aided suicide. Michiru, the last one to enter prison, is an adolescent who killed his father. Ushiyama is an extremely strong individual with a temper he cannot control. Shishido is a small time yakuza. Kiyoshi is a pimp, and Fujio is in the porn business.

The nine of them steal a preposterous red van and set for the school Yamamoto supposedly hid his money. Gradually though, they split, as each one has his own agenda to fulfill.

Toshiaki Toyoda wrote and directed a film that retains, elaborately, a difficult balance between surrealism, comedy, and drama. His greatest achievement, though, lies with the conception of the characters and the presentation of their resonance, with one example being the combination of a patricide and a filicide. Furthermore, the way he guides such a large cast, analyzing all of their stories without making the film appear segmented, is another great feature.

The film starts as a surreal, absurd comedy, with the scenes with the sheeps and the strip club in the middle of nowhere being the highlights of this style. As the story progresses though, drama takes the place of comedy, with a particular sequence towards the end, which also features a very fitting track by Dip, being the highlight of this aspect, and probably the film’s greatest moment. When the comedy is placed in the background, Toyoda also presents his messages regarding the new generation, where consumerism and “trend” seem to have taken over.

Junichi Fujisawa had a very difficult task of bringing into life all the surreal notions Toyoda had in his head, but he managed to do a great job, in all of the film’s settings. This includes a prison, fields, small rural towns, and the urban setting the ending takes place, all of which are impressively presented. Kusakabe Mototaka also does a great job in editing the film, retaining the relatively fast pace and keeping the different stories that occasionally are presented consecutively from becoming confusing.

“9 souls” features an ensemble cast that includes a great mixture of veterans and (then) new actors: Yoshio Harada, Koji Chihara, Takuji Suzuki, Mame Yamada, Ryuhei Matsuda, Genta Dairaku, Onimaru, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Itsuji Itao, all do a great job on the characters, while their chemistry is a thing of wonder. Even Jun Kinimura. Eita and Takako Matsu, who have very small roles, are also great and give memorable performances.

“9 Souls” is a film that had a number of difficult tasks to fulfill, but did so in the most impressive fashion, becoming a masterpiece in the process.

Third Window Films presents this film along with Pornostar and Unchain in a limited edition digipack of 2000 copies that features new HD masters with optional English subtitles. The collection is titled Toshiaki Toyoda: The Early Years, and the extras include new audio commentaries by Midnight Eye’s Jasper Sharp & Tom Mes, a new interview with Toshiaki Toyoda, Making Ofs, music videos and other extras from the films’ original releases. 

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