Revenge isn’t always sweet, at least not for the gentler half of the split-personality duo starring in musicvid helmer Yasuo Inoue’s debut feature “The Neighbor No. Thirteen.” Based on the manga bestseller by Santa Inoue (no relation to the helmer), pic scores big in the first few minutes with its atmospheric lensing of the protag’s literal separation into two distinct characters, but then settles into a standard psycho-killer payback drama. Cult status among Asian horror fans is assured, making this a natural for midnight screenings and DVD.
Opening moments are the most original, set in a shack surrounded by an ashen landscape where a hideously scarred figure (kabuki star Shidou Nakamura) undergoes a painful shift and spontaneously generates a gentle, smooth-faced alter-ego (Shun Oguri). The shaky transformation is interrupted by a flashback, 10 years earlier, in which sadistic bullies torment a boy in a science lab and pour acid over his face.
Back to the present, and the kind of cheap apartment building beloved by Japanese horror flicks. Juzo Murasaki, the gentle spawn glimpsed earlier, lives in number 13; moving in upstairs are the Akais, Tohru (Hirofumi Arai) and Nozomi (Yumi Yoshimura, one half of the wildly successful pop duo PuffyAmiYumi). Juzo goes to work at the same construction company where Tohru cruelly torments his junior colleagues, although he’s unaware the guy he’s now picking on is his downstairs neighbor.
He’s also unaware Juzo is the flip side of old scar face, the adult version of that boy disfigured by acid in the flashback. No surprise then, that Tohru was the gang leader of the pack of boys who committed the crime. Juzo’s shy and retiring personality takes a lot of abuse from Tohru, but when his anger level reaches critical, out comes scar face — known as #13 — hungry for vengeance. Pretty soon Juzo’s nasty half turns up regularly, despite his unwillingness to unleash the beast.
Comparisons with Bruce Banner/the Incredible Hulk aside, #13’s killing spree encompasses not just those who tormented him as a kid but anyone he finds annoying, such as a cranky neighbor played by Takashi Miike in a cameo. A certain twisted humor helps to lighten the earlier scenes, but is soon shed for more straight-out tension and gore.
Apart from the opening, which reveals Inoue’s musicvid background with dreamlike over-saturated colors, the only other bit of stylistic interest is a manga-inspired animated sequence in which Juzo explains the causes of his Jekyll and Hyde split. Figurines of both characters are already available.
English title carried on the print was “The Neighbor in 13,” but “The Neighbor No. 13” is used in pic’s presskit and website, as well as in Rotterdam Fest catalogue.