Already ranking with the Japanese absurdist-comic likes of Miike, Kurosawa, and Sabu after only a handful of films, Toshiaki Toyoda is a restless sensibility, bouncing from yakuza thrillers (Pornostar) to violent teenage nihilism (Blue Spring) to a nonfictional chronicle of a very real failed boxer (Unchain) trying to live a normal life. 9 Souls seems to be something of a coalescence, a larky, deeply poetic farce in which even the simplest scenes have a fascinating iconic charm. After focusing briefly on a young shut-in (Taboo’s Ryuhei Matsuda) shortly before he (off-screen) kills his father, the movie trains in on a dorm of deranged prison inmates who escape—by way of a manhole located underneath a moon-reflecting puddle. On the road in a stolen and preposterously conspicuous red van, the nine outlaws all have separate agendas—lovers they need to meet, jobs they want to try, old conflicts they long to resolve—that are revealed slowly and in fragments. Toyoda walks the thin line between comedy and heartbreak—a scene in which the horny convicts descend upon a herd of sheep might be unambiguously wicked, but a more typical moment comes when the group’s dwarf doctor/euthanasist (Mame Yamada) discovers a thankful ex-patient working in a peep show booth, and juts his short arm through the hole to touch her surgery scar.
It’s a thoroughly unpredictable and arresting ramble, and in his narrative and compositions, Toyoda is never less than inventive.