By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Sony Pictures Entertainment
Coming to VOD and Available to pre-order on Amazon USA
Will (Winston Duke) may well be figuratively dead inside in Nine Days. This character study by Japanese Brazilian director Edson Oda is his feature film debut, and he offers a look at how certain “individuals” are given second chances at life. It’s not just about whom this arbiter selects. He’s never seen the writing on the wall himself, and the mystery is in why he’s the judge, jury and executor driving part of this movie. He only has those number ot days to make the call if the ‘new souls’ are deemed worthy of life.
Not everyone is deserving of a chance at reincarnation. Will isn’t Buddha and nor is he Lord of the Underworld in any traditional mythological sense. The low budget set design doesn’t say where this realm rests. It’s as physical as our world, but the contexts deal with meta type elements. It’s neither in Heaven or Hell, but rather in some in-between. He’s some kind of arbiter chosen by the cosmos to decide on who deserves a chance at life on Earth. He has to interview these lost souls–if they can be called that–and determine if they are fit to try again. Two such persons are Emma (Zazie Beetz) and Kane (Bill Skarsgård).
When considering Skarsgård’s past roles in other films (like IT), it’s easy to see his character doesn’t make the grade. But for Beetz, she gives a free-spirited performance which makes many hope she does get that chance. It’s funny, as one individual whom Will has taken a liking to (that he regularly watches on old CRTs and recordings on VHS tapes), dies. Amanda (Lisa Starrett) seem to have everything going for her, but as viewers will later learn, her death was not an accident. She committed suicide.
Her departure makes room for a new person to be born, and we’re supposed to root for Emma.
The film is an excellent if not long-winded exposition on looking at what makes life good. Is it about how a person lives, good deeds or compassion? There’s no easy answer and this work is slow in trying to get to this result. Not even Will’s co-worker, Kyo (Benedict Wong, Doctor Strange), can offer sage advice. They both share the same job.
I’m reminded of Star Trek IV: A Voyage Home, where the computer asked Spock, “How do you feel?” and I suspect that’s the gist of what Will’s job should really include. His duty isn’t simply about looking at these individuals’ physical and mental fitness. When Emma asks a question on top of his questions, he was thrown for a loop, and has to study this individual further.
In comparison to other similarly constructed films like PIXAR’s Soul and Strawberry Mansion (in a very lesser degree), this take is more about the meditation on what defines an individual. This film also examines was it all worth it? Hopefully the included “Special Feature: The Making of Nine Days” gives those answers when it arrives onto home video November 2nd.
4 Stars out of 5