Edson Oda’s debut feature Nine Days, is, quite simply, miraculous. This spiritual-fiction (“spi-fi”—coined by supporting lead Benedict Wong) film follows Will (Winston Duke in a god-tier performance), a metaphysical gatekeeper who tests five anthropomorphic souls for the ultimate privilege: to be born as a human. Think Willy Wonka with “gift of life” as the golden ticket, where each soul strives to prove their right to existence. Creatively ingenious, emotionally resonant, and philosophically haunting, Nine Days is at once personal and universal—and it won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance 2020. You can read my initial reaction to it here.
How did Oda, an old soul but first-time feature filmmaker, craft one of the year’s best films? Besides Oda’s background in advertising (which nabbed him several Cannes Lions and a Latin Grammy nomination) and his time as a Sundance Screenwriting Lab Fellow—both of which he which he discusses in an earlier interview with us —Oda credits his creativity and worldbuilding skills to being a nerd.
“Magic was a big thing in my life from age fourteen on,” writer/director Oda explains in our interview. Mind you, he’s not talking about the premise for his first feature; he’s talking about Magic: The Gathering, the wildly popular card game known for its detailed lore and strategic complexity. It’s a game that rewards originality, structure, and the ability to stay ahead of the crowd. As a kid growing up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Oda dreamed of attending the Magic: The Gathering World Championship. “I got close. I was ranked top three in Type 2 in Brazil. I think I’d stop making films if I start playing Magic again,” he admits during our interview. “I have dreams about Magic a lot. I had one last night, actually.”
Japanese Manga and Anime play an integral role in Oda’s life as well. It’s no coincidence that he seems, at times, like a stoic anime protagonist: full of hard-earned wisdom and power, but too kind and humble to reveal it unless necessary. “For a while, it was my ambition to be a Manga-ka (manga author),” Oda recalls with a grin. “I thought it was the coolest job in the world. Plus, there’s something about the mythology of Manga that always comes back to doing what’s right. It’s so much about knowing yourself.”
So where do these disparate topics meet? Make sure to watch my interview to see how he developed the mix of magical realism and introspective humility that drives Nine Days—and led to his mind-bending career high.