3 Feet Ball & Souls – Film Review – Fantastic Fest 2017
3 Feet Ball & Souls, the science fiction-flavored drama from Japanese director Etsuo Kato, opens with a man screwing a bulb into a light. As the room is illuminated, we see he’s standing in a small utility shed with a large ball sitting in its center. One by one, three other people arrive. They are part of a small online community who are prepared to commit suicide with the man.
He’s a fireworks expert, and the large sphere has enough explosive power to end their lives. After some brief spoken exchanges, the ball is detonated in a bright flash of light. In the next instant, the man is screwing a bulb into a light. He looks around, bewildered. Why isn’t he dead? Was it a dream? And then events begin to occur in the exact same order all over again.
In a vein similar to Time Crimes and Edge of Tomorrow, the Groundhog Day-style plot unfolds again and again with minor variations, but always with the same conclusion. However, unlike those films 3 Feet Ball & Souls is not a puzzle film. It is not concerned with theories about the space-time continuum or devising ways to defeat the time loop the characters find themselves in. With each iteration of their unusual day, the audience learns more about each character and his or her motivations.
Despite its science fiction trappings, the film becomes an examination of suicide, the impermanence of life and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity. As the characters learn more about one another, they begin to wonder if their own life might actually be worth living. The performances can border on melodrama, but 3 Feet Ball & Souls manages to retain a nice blend of sentimentality and melancholy through its first two acts.
The film stumbles when characters begin to literally give voice to the film’s subtext. Anti-suicide rhetoric and vows to appreciate the lives they’ve been given transform the film from a genre exercise with a layer of social commentary into something less effective. And the Cloud Atlas-style coda tacked on to the end of the film feels out of place as if the filmmaker is attempting to turn a small-scale drama into a grand epic in its final five minutes. The ending doesn’t ruin the film by any means, but it would be a much more powerful piece of work without its final ten minutes.
3 Feet Ball & Soul will command your attention throughout its 90-minute runtime. It’s exciting to see a genre film that pushes its boundaries and refuses to be limited by a familiar premise. I think the film ultimately falls short of its true potential. You may disagree. It’s originality demands that you see it for yourself.