Hong Kong Cinema

9 Souls (Nine Souls)

  • Made: 2003
  • Format: DVD
  • Region: Region 1 NTSC
  • Release Date: Jan 25, 2005
  • Company: Artsmagic
  • Length: 120 mins
  • Picture: 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Sound: Dolby 5.1
  • Language: Japanese with English Subtitles
  • Extras: Trailers, Interviews, Filmographies, Tom Mes commentary
  • Classification: NR


Toshiaki Toyoda


Kee, Takuji Suzuki, Mame Yamada, Koji Chihara, Ryuhei Matsuda, Yoshio Harada, Genta Dairaku, Itsuji Itao, Onimaru


Nine Souls comes from the immensely promising Japanese director / producer / writer, Toyoda Toshiaki. After the excellent Blue Spring which focused on alienation within a Japanese high school, Toshiaki turns his attention to the trials and tribulations of nine escaped convicts. The context may be slightly different, but the films and style are unmistakeably Toshiaki. Nine Souls has been screened all across the world at numerous film festivals ( Toronto , Melbourne , Seattle, Philadelphia etc) and has been touted as his most accomplished work yet. Artsmagic have continued their effort to snap up the hottest property in contemporary Japanese cinema, and this release will once again please Toshiaki's ever-growing number of Western fans



Ryuhei Matsuda stars as Kaneko Michiru, a youth convicted of patricide who is thrown into a crowded cell in a Japanese jail. Soon after his immersion in the world of porridge, one of the inmates brags about a stash of counterfeit money in the Time Capsule at Mount Fuji Elementary School before being dragged of to solitary confinement. If only he had held his tongue! For minutes later, the remaining nine inmates discover an escape route from their cell.

The ‘souls' begin a journey across Japan , searching for something or someone. After managing to steal a camper van the convicts begin their long quest. Needless to say, it is a matter of when rather than if, that the tempers to start fray. This is further exacerbated by a seemingly unproductive visit to Mount Fuji . The net begins to close further on the fugitives as they get closer to the city. There are more TVs to show pictures of them and more strangers to recognise them. One by one, their individual stories conclude. For most, it is the end of the road, for some the future remains at best ambiguous.




In keeping with previous efforts, Toshiaki once again features scenes of explicit content, but as his style dictates, the graphic scenes are alluded to rather than glorified (be warned, along with stabbing, shootings and battery, there is also some sheep-loving!). One of Toshiaki's strengths is that the violence within his film never lingers with the viewer. Nine Souls manages to draw strength from a variety of traditions to ensure that the film is captivating rather than disturbing.

The story-telling relies on a variety of techniques to develop the nine convicts, from a ‘Dirty Dozen' style introduction after their escape to the clever use of news reports to tell us more about their shady past. The fascination lies in seeing the reactions of the convicts as their past is revealed to the rest of the group, some remain proud whilst some feel naked and vulnerable. This deep character introspection is balanced against a several doses of light humour (especially the worst cross-dressing since Monty Python) and David Lynch inspired surrealism. The diminutive Dr. Shiratori (Yamada, played the gardener in Blue Spring) helps provide a bizarre edge to the film, being a doctor convicted of assisted suicide who donated his kidney to a prostitute!



Nine Souls has a clear focus on where the convicts are running to, not from. They have little remorse for their crimes, many are embarrassed, but none believe they are guilty of anything other than being human. They only thing they regret is the liberty they have lost. As each convict leaves the bus, we get a bit closer to understanding what they have missed the most. Some just want to be accepted, some want to return to loved ones and some still have no idea where they are going. The ending climaxes with Michiru confronting his now successful brother. This scene is brutal, but also possibly a distraction from the key message in Nine Souls. The film is not about any single fugitive, it is about a group who want to return home, to an unforgiving and hostile society.


The Artsmagic disc continues their impressive form with a remastered anamorphic widescreen print. Once again, we are only offered Japanese audio with English subtitles on this Region 1 NTSC disc, but this is only a minor grumble as subtitles are the ‘must have' option for me. The extensive features include interviews, trailers, filmographies, Tom Mes commentary and scene selection.


Nine Souls is another compelling effort from Toyoda Toshiaki. It feels fresh and stylish, but manages to combine this with genuine substance. As with previous offerings, it is beautifully filmed with some flowing panoramic shots. The end result is an escape movie, a buddy movie and a road trip all rolled into one. After watching Nine Souls it will be hard not to empathise with these hardened criminals. These criminals are not the villains commonly glamorised in mainstream cinema, but a bunch of misfits, low on life skills and low on luck.