Spiritual film 'Nine Days' seeks to highlight beauty, value of life: Director Edsen Oda

Nine Days
Nine Days | Mandalay Pictures

Japanese-Brazilian filmmaker Edson Oda believes life is a beautiful and precious gift that is all-too-often taken for granted. It was this belief, coupled with some big questions surrounding eternal issues, spirituality and the human condition that prompted his new film, “Nine Days.”

“When we go through times of struggle, it’s easy to create these blind spots where we can’t enjoy or see what’s in front of us,” Oda told The Christian Post. “I thought, what if there's this world where souls are competing to have the privilege of being where you are right now?”

The film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year, follows Will (Winston Duke), a celestial being who is responsible for choosing the next human soul that will have “a chance at life.”

Before a soul is permitted to enter the Earth, they must undergo a rigorous process where they weigh in on “what-if” scenarios and answer Will’s probing interview questions. Once Will chooses a soul, he loads VHS tapes of their lives, meticulously documenting their experiences.

The candidates are an eclectic bunch: the cunning Alexander (Tony Hale), the innocent and gentle Mike (David Rysdahl), the mild-mannered Maria (Arianna Ortiz), a pragmatic Kane (Bill Skarsgård), and the live-in-the-moment Emma (Zazie Beetz). Each individual, with their own unique personalities, perspectives and attitudes, has nine days to earn a shot at life. If they fail, they simply fade into the abyss.

Creating characters that didn’t necessarily have a backstory was a “challenge,” Oda said, yet each was in some way informed by his own personality. 

“Most of the characters came from me,” he explained. “It was very interesting because we had to figure out how to create characters who had never had experiences. Everyone had to be on the same page because they’re all part of the same category.”

“We decided that these characters would have the knowledge, but not the experience,” he continued. “When you watch movies about New York City, for example, it’s different when you actually visit the city. It’s unique because you’re actually there for the first time. But it doesn’t feel out of this world because you’re informed about it. That was the motif for all of the emotions in the house.” 

Though a stoic character, evaluating and interviewing unborn souls takes a toll on Will, especially when one of his favorites — Amanda, a 28-year-old violin prodigy — dies after crashing into a wall. While vetting souls to replace her, he’s consumed with why she died, grieving her death and scouring her VHS footage for clues. 

Though it’s not a faith-based film, “Nine Days'' grapples with spiritual themes and existential philosophies. While it never explicitly mentions God, the film examines questions surrounding His goodness in light of the inevitability of death, loss and the reality of suffering. More explicitly, it highlights how humans were created with a longing to be part of something bigger than themselves.

Though a self-described “extremely spiritual” person who was raised Catholic, Oda stressed he wants “Nine Days” to resonate with viewers of all religious backgrounds.

“I have a strong spirituality and a religious background, so the movie is, of course, spiritual,” he said. “But I want people to watch this movie and understand it through their own values and beliefs. The whole premise of the movie is life is a gift, and it’s precious.”

“Nine Days” initially premiered at Sundance back in January 2020, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As millions around the world were faced with the reality of their own mortality, Oda acknowledged the unexpected timeliness of the film. 

“It was an interesting coincidence,” he said. “During the pandemic, people started asking questions about life, trying to understand what was happening in times of isolation. They essentially went through what Will goes through in the movie, and so I think it allowed them to empathize with more of the characters.”

“Nine Days” was released in New York and Los Angeles theaters on July 30, and will be followed by a nationwide rollout on Aug. 6. Already, the film is resonating with viewers of all ages and backgrounds, the director said. 

“It was so heartwarming. After the premiere, I was just walking in the streets and some people stopped me and said, ‘Can I give you a hug?’” Oda recalled. “I’ve also gotten emails from people who are going through issues, problems, traumas and loss, and they’ve shared how this movie speaks to them.”

“I think because I was vulnerable through my film, people are motivated to be vulnerable as well and share things with me," he added. "That’s the best reward of making movies like this: having people tell me how much it means to them and how it’s connected to something they’ve gone through in their lives.”

Oda said he doesn’t want to be “ambitious” in his hope for “Nine Days,” but he hopes viewers watch it with an “open heart” and gain a newfound sense of purpose and gratitude.  

“I hope it helps people reflect and think about their lives; I hope it gives them a deeper perspective on every moment,” he said. “That would be amazing.”

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