As a child Juzo Murasaki (Shun Oguri) was tormented and bullied at school, the chief bully being Akai (Hirofumi Arai). The tortures he endured were great, including an incident where acid was poured on his face. But, as Juzo grew up, he was not outwardly scarred and looked to be an average, if extremely shy and guarded, young man. However, his secret is that he has split off into two distinct personalities, being completely taken over, transforming into this other Juzo. His alter ego (Shido Nakamura) bears all the facial scars and a dead eye, is scruffy, physically bigger, and has a maniacal personality especially keen on getting back at anyone who slights him.
Juzo movies into a new apartment and starts a job at a construction site. In a strange twist of fate and coincidence, Akai resides in the same apartment building and is Juzo's boss at the construction site. Akai does not recognize the grown up Juzo and is not aware that Juzo lives in the apartment below him. Akai has matured somewhat, settled down with a wife and child, but at work he still plays the thug and delights in abusing the weaker workers, mainly Jiro and the dumpy Seki.
So, needless to say, being around his former tormentor triggers Juzo's other persona to the forefront. It is a classic Jeykll and Hyde scenario, the unbridled half becoming more and more dominate. The alter-Juzo begins by sneaking into Akai's apartment, pees all over the floor, uses their toothbrushes, eats their food, sniffs some panties, and finally places a bug so he can listen in on the family. Things escalate, as the alter-Juzo gets rid of an annoying neighbor and anyone who uncovers his secret. He has a plan for revenge which I'll leave for the viewer to uncover.
The main problem Neighbor No. 13 (2005) has, is one of perception. While it a fine brooding horror film, there is a fine line between what it is and how it was marketed. When I initially heard about ths film and saw the trailer, it looked to be a really out there horror film, something along more extreme lines. I mean, look no further than its DVD cover which boasts a little warning of: ‟CAUTION: This Film May Contain Brutal Graphic Violence.‟ Well, guess what? The key word there is ‟May.‟ The film is actually not very gory and most of the violence occurs offscreen. While Neighbor No. 13 is horrific and tense, it is a far more slow paced number and aims for more meditative, surreal, and subtler "weird" horror rather than grindhouse shocks.
To draw a recent comparison, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Doppleganger ran into the same trouble. The public's expectation was that the film would be a new horror from the maker of Kairo and Cure, and what they got was a weird, high concept, genre mish-mash of sci-fi and comedy. So, when it made the rounds at festivals, many audiences were left a little confused and letdown. From what I've gathered about Neighbor No. 13, it garnered pretty much the same reactions. So, its not a knock on the actual film because it cannot help the way it was sold. Arthouse horror is just a hard sell.
It almost goes without saying that the film is based on a manga. 9/10 Japanese horrors are these days. Debuting director Yasuo Inoe shows some serious skills and a great eye. Several sequences standout, like when Juzo explains his peculiar split personality to Seki: the scene unfolds in animation, cutesy drawings gone gross, showing how cartoonist Seki must be imagining Juzo's transformation. The
docile-Juzo and the scary-Juzo meet in a sort of Lynchian dreamscape location, a dilapidated shack under a cloudy grey sky, docile-Juzo naked, covered in slimy afterbirth, scary-Juzo sweaty in ragged jeans. As the film draws to a close, things get very unsettling, only to sort of putter out with an extremely pat conclusion. Luckily what came before is solid brooding horror, so the fizzle at the end doesn't ruin the film, rather it just keeps it in the average category.
The DVD: Media Blasters
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. First of all, the film is extremely dark. The cinematography is great, sets bathed in black, often with just the straight edges of furniture and walls catching the light and characters often partially shadowed (which, in the early part of a scene, makes it interesting to guess which Juzo we're going to see.) The contrast is nice and deep, Bible black, with no noise in the shadow detail. Sharpness and grain levels appear to be pretty good. Colors are nice and vivid. Media Blasters delivers a first rate image transfer, something that isn't always the case with their releases.
Sound: Japanese or English 2.0 Stereo tracks. Optional English subtitles. Very nice sound design that still remains engaging despite the lack of 5.1 or DTS treatment. Nice atmospherics and a standout creepy, droning ambient score highlight the aural presentation.
Extras: Image Gallery— Theatrical Trailer, plus more Media Blasters-Tokyo Shock releases.
Conclusion: Well, maybe it was just because I was a bullied kid, but I really liked the movie. Everyone can probably identify, somewhat, with the face you sometimes put on and those deep dark desires you keep hidden, and Neighbor No. 13 exploits that. Of course, this is a film that really takes it to extremes, though, despite the cover blurb mentioning Oldboy and Fight Club, those extremes are NOT of the visceral variety, more the psychological and bizarre.
It is a pleasing transfer and the only real drawback is the discs lack of supplemental material. Those wanting the most content for their dollar may want to stick to a rental, but, in general, the disc is recommended as a purchase for fans of idiosyncratic Asian horror.