• 9 Souls (Artsmagic) DVD Review

    Released by: Artsmagic
    Released on: June 25th, 2005.
    Director: Toshiaki Toyoda
    Cast: Yoshio Harada, Ryûhei Matsuda, Genta Dairaku, Eita, Yû Fujiki
    Year: 2003
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    9 Souls – Movie Review:

    Artsmagic follows up their excellent release of Toshiaki Toyoda’s Blue Spring with the DVD release of 2003’s 9 Souls. The film follows the story of Michiru (played by Ryuhei Matsuda, also of Blue Spring) who is sent to prison for fourteen years after being found guilty of murdering his own father. He’s sent to do his time in a cell with nine other inmates, one of whom, a former doctor named Shiratori (Mame Yamada), soon finds an escape route by following the trail of a mouse who is able to make it in and out of the prison.

    The gang of escaped convicts makes their way out of their confinement and head out back to the real world where many of them set out to make amends for some of their past mistakes, and to find the so called key to the universe that they heard about in prison from an inmate who didn’t make the escape. As they set out they get to know each other better and each one tries to make something of his life.

    9 Souls starts off as a fairly standard ‘prisoners on the run’ movie but soon finds itself and turns into a superb character study of sorts as it makes the change to what is essentially a more laid back drama. Yes, there are moments of intense violence that will take you by surprise but this isn’t a gore film at all – it’s a look at the criminal element through the characters’ own eyes. This allows Toyoda to further explore the themes of alienation and desperation that he dug at in Blue Spring. While the film is antisocial in the sense that it does follow the story of some guilty and convicted criminals, the film is able to peel away the hard edged layers that we usually associate with the criminal element as they are portrayed in films and show us the real people underneath. Toyoda wants us to care about these men, or at least think about why they’re in the situation that they’re in and how they came to be there.

    Not only does violence punctuate the film, but so do some moments of true tenderness as well. When Shiratori meets up with a woman he loved so much that he donated a kidney to in a strip club, what on the surface appears to be a crass lap dance usually associated with ‘perverts’ or ‘dirty old men’ is turned into a reunion that demonstrates how deeply he at one time cared for this woman.

    A film that works on many layers, 9 Souls also benefits from some exceptional cinematography that not only captures the claustrophobia of the prison setting but also opens up the outside world for the viewer as they characters begin to make their way through it. The use of colors in the film is well handled and the overall look and feel of the movie suits the tone of the story perfectly.

    In the end, 9 Souls is a touching film told in a rather unconventional manner (though you wouldn’t know that from the beginning). It’s full of interesting and sympathetic characters and ultimately you care about these people – you want to know what happens to them. It looks great, it’s unusually interesting, it once again blends music into its fiber with ease and it warrants repeat viewings. 9 Souls demands to be seen and is truly deserving of a wider audience. Toyoda is a director to watch and even this early in his career, with only five films under his belt, is emerging as a genuine talent who I hope to see a lot more from in the future.

    9 Souls – DVD Review:

    The 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a bit soft but features decent colors and a noticeable lack of print damage and grain. The picture shows some mpeg compression, and although some edge enhancement is visible in a few scenes it is quite minor and not so much of a problem.

    The original Japanese language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix is maintained, complimented here by clear and typo free optional English subtitles. Clarity is fine and there are some nice moments of distinct channel separation throughout the mix. Dialogue is free of distortion and the background music and sound effects are balanced properly in the mix.

    The film comes complete with a Tom Mes commentary track which proves to be interesting and quite informative. Mes does a good job of putting Toyoda's films into context against modern day Japanese society and makes some interesting observations and contrasts towards the director's earlier effort, Blue Spring.

    In addition to this, Artsmagic have supplied two lengthy video interviews with Toyoda. Toyoda seems a little removed from the question and answer sessions but makes some interesting points about why he cast the film the way that he did, and what his ideas where behind getting this movie made, as well as how he feels about it overall.

    Rounding out the supplements is the film’s original theatrical trailer, some text based biographies and filmographies, and a moderate sized still gallery of promotional items used in marketing the movie.

    9 Souls – The Final Word Review:

    9 Souls is a great film that is given a decent presentation from Artsmagic for its North American home video debut. The transfer isn’t amazing but the interesting extra features are strong and compliment this fantastic movie perfectly.