Japan has over a million shut-ins, mostly young men, who can’t face the world outside their bedrooms. At the beginning of 9 Souls, one of them kills his father. His stay in prison is mercifully brief. He and eight cellmates escape one night, and take off in search of the stash of cash hidden by an ex-prisoner, the Counterfeit King.
While you might think a prison break film would be full of gun battles and exciting car chases, in this instance you’d be dead wrong. Nor is it full of violence or fear. What director Toshiaki gives us is a quiet reflection on those misfits left behind by society, full of loss and melancholy. This contemplative mood is beautifully underlined by the music, mostly accoustic guitar, which carries us across the opening sequence of a dying city and supports several key scenes.
The nine escapees are initially held together by the desire to fulfill their quest, although there are inevtiable frictions. When the longed-for loot is not where it should be, these frictions start to fracture the loose alliance, and one by one the escapees go their own ways.
Although overall the film has a sad tone, there are flashes of humour. In order to hitch a lift without seeming suspicious, the nine strip to the waist and practice martial arts by the roadside in the middle of the night. And each time they stop to eat, they must use a different form of disguise: the false mustaches and glasses of one meal give way to full and unconvincing drag for the next.
Those who’ve seen Matsuda in either Blue Spring or Taboo might think he’d make a very convincing girl, but again, you’d be wrong. While his face is ethereally beautiful, he moves with the schoolboy slump that served him so well in Blue Spring, and carries a self-conscious scowl as though afraid he’s being ridiculed.
Subtle and convincing performances from several, including the two mains, allow the story to show the human joys and tragedies of those at the margins. Anyone who enjoyed Blue Spring will enjoy this more, I think. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a film that will make you reflect on life, and love, and second chances.