The Neighbor No. Thirteen Review
Juzo Murasaki, a peaceful young man, actually had a savage alternating personality called “No.13” in his dark side since he has been tyrannized in child by his schoolmate. 10 years later, As the savage personality of 13 growths even stronger, 13 is now taking cruel revenge to everyone…
I love this Hong Kong synopsis stuff. But that’s basically it without going too deep into spoiler territory, though in saying that the developments that take place within The Neighbor No. Thirteen aren’t strictly shown as being well kept secrets.
Rather than develop a psychological tale in a manner befitting of the works of well established players such as Takashi Miike, Shinya Tsukamoto and Satoshi Kon, debut director Yasuo Inoue - working from an adapted screenplay, based upon Santa Inoue’s manga - opts for a simpler approach; he introduces the narrative’s big twist within the first ten minutes. The film no longer becomes a “what, why and how” journey into the unknown, but an effective, if somewhat abstract study pertaining to the devastating effects that one person’s actions unto another can cause. In keeping with Miike, then, the theme certainly isn’t uncommon because this is a director who has often used the subject of bullying as the basis for his movies (Ichi.., Yokai.., Zebraman, Young Thugs to name a few) and of course Inoue knows that, but then this is still a considerably important issue in Japan, with a higher suicide rate to this day as a direct result from school bullying. I suspect that Miike’s brief cameo appearance in this feature is a kind thank you and a nod toward a director who seems to be highly influential in this case. With that in mind The Neighbor No. Thirteen still does well to raise an important social issue. Inoue sets up his feature as a dark and brooding piece, whereby we witness the terrible destruction of a charming young man who isn’t in total control of his own actions. Inoue doesn’t spend a great deal of time in deconstructing events, however, but simply pinpointing the catalyst which sets everything into motion. With the dual personality angle firmly established the emphasis thus strays too far into Karmic territory. If the director leaves us any messages by the end of the film then it’s in showing us that most of us should stop to consider our actions, because one bad act can easily lead to self ruin - karma will eventually catch up and judge those accordingly. The Neighbor No. Thirteen isn’t a pleasant film in the slightest; it’s a sad and depressing tale with a strict psychological leaning and I hasten to add that those seeking gory thrills will likely find disappointment within.
In fact Inoue’s feature is quite sparse in what it depicts, taking a far less liberal approach and keeping several violent acts deliberately off screen. It’s by no means less effective, primarily because of the apt sound design and indeed Inoue displays an impressive amount of restraint throughout, making this less about crimson spillage and more about its characters. Neither is the film particularly flashy, although it does leave its realistic setting momentarily by providing an interesting animated segment. But for the most part it maintains a minimalist décor, kitted out with harsh lighting of white, blue and green hues, which highlight one of the more destitute social divides in Japan: the struggling lower class families who huddle up in shoebox sized flats. This in turn makes for an extremely intimate setting and one that’s all the more terrifying when we learn that that a remorseless killer is living right under the nose of an unsuspecting family, even if they do carry a bad history between them. Inoue’s camera rarely strays from this main setting, only occasionally drifting out onto building sites or in another instance a fairground; he’s more interested in capturing quieter moments of reflection, trying to make us think about what’s going through particular individuals’ minds. While his attempts may be sincere several of these moments prevent the film from progressing in a manner that we’d like, which means finishing a damn sight earlier than it actually does. Unfortunately for Inoue his sense of pacing isn’t quite up there with his visual skills and all too often he indulges in letting these characters sit quietly for lengthy durations, which despite his best efforts doesn’t make the film any more atmospheric or intriguing, the effect becomes more of a burden and at times something of a chore to sit through. It approaches a realistic conclusion just shy of the ninety minute mark, when Akai finally cottons on as to who Juzo is, but the director decides to stretch it out with a gruelling display of mental torture set within an ambiguous construct. It’s not a huge deterrent and the last act certainly works in highlighting the points being made, but with a little tightening up in other areas we could have been seeing a far more effective piece of work, rather than one which will simply test the patience of many.
Even so, The Neighbor No. Thirteen gets by with some solid performances. Shun Oguri as Juzo and Shido Nakamura playing his alter ego “13” provide decent contrasts, with Juzo - the quiet introvert and “13” being the perfect release for his pent up anger. Oguri approaches the role quite subtly, which makes it far from being a powerhouse display, while Nakamura serves up a plate of crazy chips. It’s a little odd in that Oguri doesn’t have to play a dual role here and it’s a slight shame that we don’t get to see a greater range of his talent on display. Joining them are Puffy’s Yumi Yoshimura and Hirofumi Arai as the upstairs couple, taking on effective roles as the objects of Juzo and “13”’s desires, while Azumi’s (Saru) Minoru Matsumoto puts in a nice turn as a slightly dejected gangster.
We’re taking a look at the newly released R3 disc from Hong Kong, which is presented by Universe.
The Neighbor No. Thirteen is a very dark feature and one that’s bound to be difficult in transferring to digital disc. Presented anamorphically in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio it appears quite fitting; black levels are deep and contrast doesn’t appear to be too problematic, while flesh tones and various set colours are suitable, despite being deliberately drab, with most of the film severely underlit, save for a couple of outdoor scenes and a classroom showdown. There’s a very slight amount of colour bleed, notably with blue and orange shades, while edge enhancement proves to be a tad bothersome. Detail is generally fine though, with a little softness in some areas. In addition to this the transfer is interlaced and shows that Universe are still incredibly up and down with their releases.
The 5.1 Surround Japanese track is a lively enough affair. The Neighbor No. Thirteen isn’t big on the massive surround front. The feature relies more heavily on Reiji Kitazato’s ambient scoring, which is effectively channelled, in addition to a few other incidental effects including various stabbings. Dialogue remains free from distortion and the optional English subtitles provide a nice translation, with very little in the way of poor grammar.
Things are slight here, with only a trailer for the film, star files for (oddly enough) Shido Nakamura, Yumi Yoshimura and Takashi Miike and a stills gallery of sixteen photos.
The Neighbor No. Thirteen is another interesting take on the subject of school bullying and it takes its point to the highest extreme. Less of a conventional horror and more a psychological piece for which Japan is best known for it works quite well, despite a fluctuating pace and minimalist approach. Director Yasuo Inoue makes an impressive debut and I suspect he’ll be a name to look out for in future.