I read that 3FT BALL & SOULS was a Japanese Science Fiction film – so when I watched a film that was equal parts GROUNDHOG’S DAY and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE… I was stunned by the beauty the film contained. The film is not yet listed on IMDB and has debuted tonight. But if you’re at FANTASTIC FEST and plan on watching this incredible film – I would recommend skipping the rest of this review. Know that the concept I lay out in that brutal first sentence above – is the movie in a nutshell. It is emotional and revelatory. It handles the pain and angst of suicide in a manner that felt intended to give those battling such thoughts, the best path forward in life.
3FT BALL & SOULS is directed by Yoshio Kato with a sobering and powerful confidence and restraint that belies the subject matter. This is his second film, after PLASTIC CRIME, which I have not seen at all, but will hunt down as soon as I can. His cast includes Shinobu Tsuji, Honoka Murakami, Minehiro Kinomoto, Katsuya Ito, Mami Unezawa, Yuki Tayama and Nobu Morimoto.
The film begins with the one actor I’m unsure of’s identity. He engineers Fireworks – and has a scheme to benefit his family through his insurance policy. He’s also the founder of their LIFE CLUB, which in reality is an internet Suicide Club, where they all decided to go out via FIREWORK. The 3FT Ball of the title is an enormous firework that will explode like 600meters wide – I believe. The film opens with him turning on the light in the shed and it blinding him momentarily.
The second person in is Minehiro Kinomoto playing a first year residency doctor in training who can’t handle the pressure of the day to day, along with the expectation and guilt his parents place upon him.
The third member of the club is Shinobu Tsuji playing a grief stricken mother that lost someone dear to her in a car crash. This is the most brutal story of the film, I feel.
The last member to arrive is the youngest. Honoka Murakami plays a young student trapped in a cycle of bullying and self-loathing.
The first meeting of LIFE CLUB, things escalate fairly quickly and the button setting off the enormous firework goes off. You see a super bright light and our characters being thrown back, and then… Mr Fireworks is turning on the light in the shed again – and this time, he’s experience Déjà vu. The next time, the young Doctor remembers. The next time the grief striken Mother remembers. But after the fourth time, the young student seems to not remember.
They begin to feel the reason they’re coming back is to save her. They try a lot of convincing techniques, but it still results in nothing. The 93 minute film feels so much more robust and comprehensive in its narrative than the running time would give you, but ultimately – a series of online exchanges we see towards the end – just reduced me to tears and smiles.
The concept of death of fireworks – was immediately nonsensical to me, though lots have lost life with the celebratory explosions, just the size of that ball – with them sitting on all four sides of it – initially felt absurdist. Then each time it goes off, there’s a long shot of the explosion. Never the horror of inside the shed. The explosion seems poetic and beautiful, yet when the club members return with memory, they can remember the searing pain and agony – and the disappointment of having to do it all over again. Wanting their perceived relief of death. That permanence.
I absolutely don’t want to go into the third act – how they begin to reach the young student, but it is beautiful. Really beautiful and profound and… as I said earlier… Revelatory.
The film plays like a big loving hug to life and the possibilities of how we all connect – how life must be embraced and strived for. And how giving up, you lose the possibility of getting it all right again. Clarence the Angel doesn’t appear in the film, but you can imagine his invisible hand at play here to ensure we all know it’s a wonderful life after all.