Toronto Japanese 2016 Review: THE MAGNIFICENT NINE, Magnificent Does Not Begin To Describe It
Juzaburo lives in a post town in rural Japan. The town is heavily taxed by their local government and most of the villagers live in abject poverty. When Tokuheiji returns to town with his new bride Natsu to grow tea he casually suggests, in jest, that the town should make a large donation to the local government and collect the interest to help the town. However, Juzaburo takes that remark seriously and begins to devise a plan. In the time it takes for them to raise the money to make this large donation many of the town’s standout characters learn of this scheme and want to be a part of it, despite the danger of the local government learning of their plan. Heads could roll.
Director Yoshihiro Nakamura and frequent collaborator Suzuki Kenichi adapted Michifumi Isoda’s novel Mushi no Nihonjin - while I cannot speak for accuracy to the original text their screenplay is wonderfully paced, carefully unveiling moments that will round out key characters and the overall story to keep us entertained, invested and surprised right through to the very end.
I know it is cliche to say that a movie will have you cheering by the end but in this instance I am willing in incur anyone’s wrath for using this weak generalization. You really do want these underdogs to win and bring a moderation of wealth and prosperity to their struggling post town. There are so many surprises and inspiring moments of personal sacrifice to make this happen that it will leave you feeling all warm inside.
The humor in The Magnificent Nine is so slight yet spot on. A lot of it is simply in facial expressions alone. I am going to single out Terawaki Yasufumi as the best example. While his role may be just a supportive one by golly does he get a lot of moments to pull his mug for comedic effect throughout the story. One standout face-pulling sequence happens when town treasurer Junai learns of their plan and busts in one of their secret meetings.
Nakamura and his cinematographer Yukihiro Okimura capture the rustic and harsh beauty of rural Japan. Filmed in Tsuruoka, in the Yamagata prefecture in Northern Japan the story takes place over a number of years so they catch the post town in a number of seasons to show the passage of time. I do not know if it was a set or an actual heritage site in Tsuruoka but even something so simple as throwaway shots of snow falling on the town during Winter are so beautiful you want to be there.
We can guarantee that you will leave a screening of The Magnificent Nine with a smile on your face and a warmth in your heart.
The Magnificnt Nine plays Thursday, June 23rd at 7pm at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre as part of the Toronto Japanese Film Festival. It will be the International Premiere.