Nine convicts (whose
ranks include a ruthless biker, a mad bomber, a career delinquent,
a pusher, a porn king, and a dwarf doctor-turned-escape artist) break
from prison and soon find themselves at the center of a surreal comedy
of errors. Just prior to the escape, looney Yamamoto (Jun Kunimura)
revealed to his cell mates that he stashed a pile of counterfeit money
in an elementary school time capsule. Despite sharing this information,
he gets left behind when the others find a hole allowing them to escape
through the prisons sewers. Their search for the money does
not quite work out as planned, so the men (who have developed into
a bizarre family unit) begin to split off from the group in search
of their fate.
If you are looking for a linear, logical
narrative, 9 SOULS will have pulled the rug out from under you well
before the halfway point. Writer/director Toshiaki Toyoda (PORNOSTAR,
BLUE SPRING) keeps things on a surprisingly even keel, however, as
he gradually shifts from comedy to drama to surrealism and back again.
There are a number of interesting and unusual relationships (a father
who killed his son gradually bonds with a son who killed his father),
some touching sequences (particularly one set in a strip club that
sits in a most unusual location), and a few brief moments of effectively
jarring violence. The films humor (including bits where the
men dress in extremely unconvincing disguises, including drag) is
less successful and the fact that it is meant to be obvious does not
really make it any more amusing. Ultimately too drawn out at almost
120 minutes, 9 SOULS remains an intriguing meditation on destiny and
atonement. While most of the mens fates are pre-determined,
the story still takes a few surprising detours and Toyodas stabs
at profundity resonate more convincingly here than in BLUE SPRING.
The principal players are Yoshio Harada (giving the best performance
as the nominal leader of the group), Koji Chihara, Mame Yamada, Ryuhei
Matsuda, Takuji Suzuki, Itsuji Itao, Kee, Onimaru, and Genta Dairaku.