Neighbor No. Thirteen, The (DVD)

Starring Shido Nakamura, Sun Oguri, Hirofumi Arai, Yumi Yoshimura

Directed by Yasuo Inoue

Distributed by Media Blasters

What is it with these quotes on foreign titles? It seems like critics are always trying to draw up some desperate comparison to newer “hip” films to give these movies a selling point. Just take a look at the cover for The Neighbor No. Thirteen

“A combination of Oldboy and Fight Club“?

How do people come up with this stuff? I can almost see a group of critics sitting around after a viewing, scratching their heads before proclaiming, “Dude, it’s Asian! So it’s like…Oldboy or somethin’…”

Pardon the Seinfeld moment. I digress.

You want a comparison? Well, here’s a better one: The Neighbor No. Thirteen plays like a horror version of The Incredible Hulk. We have the ordinary guy with the doormat personality who bottles up his emotions until he’s pushed too far and undergoes a frightening transformation. Our “Bruce Banner” is mild-mannered Juzo, who previously suffered an intense childhood under schoolyard bully Akai. The bullying reaches traumatic proportions when Akai one day pours acid on the poor kid’s face in a science classroom.

Years later Juzo is all grown up and starting life anew. But during his first day at work, he discovers that Akai is a fellow employee and still the same childish prick: He insults and beats up on all his co-workers for no reason (I wonder how this guy keeps a job). Once again subjected to Akai’s abuse, Juzo begins to snap, and his rage manifests in the form of a dark, scarred doppelganger. After killing his surly neighbor (Takashi Miike in a cameo) Juzo begins to develop a taste for blood and immediately sets his sights on Akai’s family.

N13 possesses all the makings of a great film. Director Yasuo Inoue has a good visual sense, and the actors are clearly giving it their all. The film has an edgy, dark tone; and there are some truly mean-spirited moments scattered throughout, particularly when Juzo inacts revenge against Akai’s unsuspecting family members and friends. We even get a gory animated dream sequence that involves little children disemboweling each other. Sounds great, right? Yet even with all these qualities, N13 misses the mark in a big way.

Only one word can adequately describe the story: slow. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for deliberate pacing. I eat Kiyoshi Kurosawa films for breakfast. But this is one case where the slow burn works against the film. When you get right down to it, this is a very simple tale that gets treated in a way that feels both bloated and pretentious. Each scene drags on for an extended period of time, and there are numerous subplots (such as a relationship between Juzo and Akai’s wife) that never go anywhere.

This is basically a character study that lacks believable characters. Juzo is the twitchy push-over, and Akai is your stereotypical asshole. That’s about it. There are no grey areas to explore and no real character depth to fill the void in between the film’s horrific moments. Inoue throws out a lot of surreal imagery and metaphors for us to chew on, but it doesn’t help us identify with these base personalities.

Don’t expect anything in the way of DVD extras either. Other than an image gallery and some trailers, there are none. Another missed opportunity for a film that deserves better.

In short, there just isn’t enough going on with this film to sustain its two-hour running time. It’s a shame. With a better screenplay this could’ve been one for the books. As is, The Neighbor No. Thirteen is wasted potential – a film that excels in everything but its characters which, in this case, is the vital ingredient.

Special Features
Image gallery

2 ½ out of 5

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Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.

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