As a play on The Magnificent Seven, this mildly amusing comedy brings together seven merchants in an attempt to save a rural farming town in 18th Century Japan.
The film’s opening claims events to be based on a true story, but with a run time of slightly more than 2 hours, the screenplay by Yoshihiro Nakamura and Kenichi Suzuki features a lot of repetitive detail for such a short premise. It would benefit greatly by a tighter script running at least 40 minutes shorter.
That’s not to say The Magnificent Nine is boring. It’s regularly amusing and sometimes funny as the townsfolk learn to work for their collective benefit over their individual gains. They’re heavily taxed by the local Feudal Lord who is struggling financially. A scheme is hatched to raise enough money to loan it to the Lord so the interest can be distributed to the townsfolk to ease their own burden. Such activity is not taken lightly however, and if they’re discovered they’re likely to be executed.
The cast features Sadao Abe, Eita, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Yuko Takeuchi, Yasufumi Terawaki, and Kitaro, and there’s no real stand outs. It’s an ensemble piece that is outshone by the picturesque cinematography and let down by director Yoshihiro Nakamura’s slow pace. Much of the lengthy film focusses on word spreading about the scheme and the efforts to raise the necessary money rather than advancing any side plots or relationships.
The deep traditions of the era also work against a Western audience. Unlike samurai action films and the like, the cultural layers of this farming community quickly become the most interesting element of the film, disconnecting the audience from the main plot itself. We want the heroes to win, but as the story also jumps ahead frequently in time, it’s difficult to connect emotionally to their plight.
The Magnificent Nine will appeal to those who enjoy a gentle comedy, but those expecting belly laughs or even frequent laughs, may need to consider one of the other films on offer.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 6
The Magnificent Nine will screen on 22 October only, as part of the 20th Japanese Film Festival, which runs 21-30 October 2016 exclusively at the Mercury Cinema. All films screen with English subtitles.