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Neighbor No. 13
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by Jay Seaver

"::sigh:: Another killer-next-door flick."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: Ah, revenge. It seems like such a simple thing - someone does you wrong, you turn it around, preferably making the other fellow suffer twice what you've had to deal with. Simple and straightforward in concept, although it seldom is in practice. And it doesn't do anybody any good in the end. And in some cases, the ones who suffer are the audience.

Juzo Murasaki (Shun Oguri) has ample reason for wanting revenge. Back in high school, a classmate spilled acid on his face, disfiguring him for life. Or so it would seem. His scars seem to have healed, but he's got a sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde thing going, with his alter ego "Number 13" (Shido Nakamura) retaining the burns and channeling the anger, and sometimes seeming to act independently of Juzo. And is he ever going to be given a reason to come out and play, as the foreman at Juzo's new construction job is Toru Akai (Hirofumi Arai), the man responsible for Juzo's mutilation years ago. Along with his wife (Yumi Yoshimura) and child, he's also Juzo's neighbor, living just a few doors down in the row house development. And, apparently, he's still a right bastard.

I felt almost nothing watching this film. There was an uncomfortable moment or two during a conversation between Murasaki and Nozomi Akai, as he offers her some free movie tickets and offers to watch the kid, and there's some nifty contradictory emotions coming off him - it's Juzo, and not #13, so it's difficult to guess whether his intention is sinister and benign, and there's also a hint of infatuation there, too. So it's got a good scene, which is nice. But for the most part, I had the same reaction that I had to Izo almost exactly a week earlier: Just complete indifference to the violence and confusion as to what's going on. (Worth noting: Izo's director, Takashi Miike, appears in this film as Juzo's downstairs neighbor, who is one of the first to feel #13's wrath)

I never felt like I had any sort of hook into Juzo. He's one of those paradoxical characters where even though the audience is fed a fair amount of information on the event that made him the man he is today, it's not quite clear who that man actually is. Is our entire supply of sympathy for (or at least interest in) the character expected to come from one admittedly horrific incident in his past? What's he been doing since then? It's an enigma.

Director Yasou Inoue demonstrates a fair amount of visual flair. He's a top music video director making his first feature, and based on this I'd say he's closer to be Japan's David Fincher than Japan's Michael Bay. Inoue's camera is capable of quick movement and almost painful stillness, and I can kind of see why original manga creator Santa Inoue (no relation, I presume) allowed his work to be adapted after resisting for ten years. The man has talent, but somewhere along the line, the things just didn't work out. I don't know whether it was in Santa Inoue's original work or Yasou Inoue's vision of it as a movie, or the Hajime Kado screenplay that got bridges the two, or some combination thereof, but the movie never comes together, either as a horror story or as an art film/character drama.

I'll admit, this has never been my type of film. The whole serial killer-as-next-door-neighbor thing just isn't something I find interesting on its own, and while Inoue has made the Juzo bizarre, they fell well short on making him interesting.

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originally posted: 08/07/05 11:02:41
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2005 Fantasia Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Yasuo Inoue

Written by
  Hajime Kado

  Shido Nakamura
  Shun Oguri
  Hirofumi Arai
  Yumi Yoshimura
  Tomoya Ishii
  Minoru Matsumoto

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