NEIGHBOR NO. 13 (2005)

Country: Japan
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 108'
Director: Yasuo Inoue
Shun Oguri
Shido Nakamura
Hirofumi Arai
Yumi Yoshimura

**(*)  3- 

Story: Juzo is an introverted boy constantly bullied at school. Akai is the leader of the pack which douses Juzo with water and burns him with acid. The scars of these treatments remain. He grows up into a fine looking young man (Shun Oguri), but no one suspects that inside he harbors another self – the one which bears the marks of inhuman acts visited upon him. It is a scarred, ugly and more muscular version of him (Shido Nakamura). This dark doppelganger is bent on vengeance. As it turns out, it is no coincidence that Juzo lives in the same tenement building as his former tormentor. Nor is it pure chance that he starts working for the construction company where Akai (Hirofumi Arai) is still up to his old bullying tricks. Akai's cute wife and a small son do not suspect anything regarding their neighbor from the apartment no. 13...

Review: NEIGHBOR NO. 13 is the kind of a movie that can be hurt by false expectations. It is marketed as a vengeance saga (after all – vengeance sells! Don't we all dream of one kind or another?). The DVD package presents it as an over-stylized action flick: you see two cool dudes, one of them sporting a bloodied samurai sword, and the dark blue wall behind them is splattered with blood. Oh, yeah! The fanboys are drooling already. Below the title, you see the magic words: 'director's cut'! 'Aha', you think, 'so there was some other, censored cut? There must be plenty of gore and nudity to be cut from here!' On the back cover you instantly recognize Takashi Miike scowling from a photo. 'Damn! Miike is in this too? This must be cool beyond words!' If you cannot read Japanese, the rest won't tell you much, since there is no English on this DVD cover, but then you go on the internet and find reviews that mention that it's based on a manga ('Hell yes!') and you also find all the talk about 'brutality', 'gore' and... yeah – 'nudity'! Your hand, with a will of its own, is already in your pockets, counting the cash.

Wait a minute.

First you must be warned of the following: I am not aware of there being any other cut of this film, but if anything *was* cut, it must be mere seconds, since there is not much explicit stuff here to begin with. The most 'shocking' thing you'll see is a close up of a big fat turd. The violence is mostly off-screen, or shot from a distance, while its aftermath –if shown at all- can be seen only in glimpses. Of course, that's a legitimate aesthetic decision – as long as you're aware of it, and do not expect something else. Something more Miike-like. Talking about whom – his cameo is the smallest 'blink-and-miss' cameo you'll ever see in your life: he is onscreen for the whole three seconds. And as for the nudity: no, the cute wife (Yumi Yoshimura) does not bare much more than a single shoulder. The only bare flesh you'll see here belongs to the boyish Shun Oguri: of course, this being an Asian film, you cannot expect full frontal (that's still a big No-no!), but you do get to see almost every other inch of his slim bod. If that's your thing – you've been warned.

OK, now that we've discussed the exploitation parts (or lack thereof), let's talk about art. After deciding that this is neither action nor horror film that the package might lead you to believe, how about drama? Is it a 'revenge saga' along the lines of Chanwook Park's vengeance trilogy? Well, not really. The revenge is utterly uninspired and takes the most predictable route. No ingenious and convoluted plans here. Nor is it emotionally searing in the way that Park's films inevitably are. Admittedly, there is some creepiness involving the bully's kid, but that's about it. (Of course, if you're on a strict diet of recent American fare, then you *will* be shocked by a lot that goes on here, but I assume that readers of this site are well versed in Asian cult cinema, and are therefore not easily shocked.) Our protagonist is reduced to a cipher and his 'struggle' with the double (the two of them fighting in a lonely cabin in the wasteland under gloomy skies) is shown in stylized imagery where visuals from the director's commercials creep in. Unfortunately, none of that makes the drama any deeper or more layered – just prettier, especially in contrast with the drab, claustrophobic environment of the tenement building which takes the bulk of the film.

The greatest fault with NEIGHBOR NO. 13, however, is its 'deliberate' pacing. The story is too simple and the characters too conventional to fill the two hours' running time, and the pace is too often too slow. Our debutant director shows signs of promise, especially in instances where he refuses to go the easy way and provide cheap thrills, but on the other hand, a story like this *requires* something more visceral – either in terms of imagery or emotions. The detached attitude (e.g. over-reliance on long, wide shots, which place the characters and events in the distance) is not the way to go; when mixed with a really uneven, stop-and-go pace (with more stopping than going) and an utterly underwhelming ending, it all boils down to a solid, if overlong exercise in nothing special, although occasional flashes of quirkiness make it more palatable. The patient viewers will certainly find some rewards in this film, but the common viewer might not be predisposed to enjoy a too-simple story unnecessarily complicated and prolonged.

DVD [NTSC, Region 2] :  The fine, but misleading package of the disc is already mentioned above: the DVD cover and the menus lack anything in English, so it may take some wandering around until you find what you want. Animated menus are good (although inappropriate for this particular film: they also try to 'sell' a cool, stylish action film – which this is not!), but of little use to English speaking viewers. When you click on 'SET UP' – all you find is a bunch of Japanese characters. Luckily, once you play the movie, the English translation is excellent and subtitles are readable. The visuals vary a lot, but that seems to be the way it was filmed: the scenes in the apartments are intentionally under lit and lacking detail, while the symbolic, stylized parts (in the cabin) are crisp and top notch. The sound (in 5.1. surround) is excellent, making a particularly good use of the brooding dark ambient score and sound design. There is also an audio commentary here, in which (at least) two Japanese talk and laugh, but there is neither explanation in the menus nor subtitle for it, so this was obviously not meant for the English speaking viewers. The bonus materials are scarce: a theatrical and TV trailer (again, misleadingly presenting the flick as a much weirder and gorier affair than it is) and cast and crew text info (only in Japanese, of course). You also get chapter selection (if that's an extra for you!) – and that's all.



Country : Japan
Genre: Horror / Comedy
Running Time: 104

Producer: Kenzo Horikoshi, etc.
Director: Hiroshi Takahashi
Cast: Takashi Urai, Aki Miyata, Rena Komine, Shoko Nakahara


Story: Bad things happen when innocent blood is shed. In the early 1700s, Lord Sodom Ichibei is celebrating his wedding day when his bride-to-be suddenly vomits blood on her white gown and dies. Suspecting witchcraft, he kills his bride's two maids, but once he realizes their innocence, he becomes completely insane and kills everyone around him. 300 years later, his descendant goes through the same: one of the innocent victims is reincarnated and poisons all the guests at his wedding, while his bride dies in a similar bloody manner. This transforms Ichiro into the evil and vengeful 'Sodom the killer', a cursed man who becomes blind at the spot (except he can see cats, dogs, trees and flowers). He finds a group of minions and starts a master-plan for the world's destruction.

Review: SODOM THE KILLER seems to be a horror comedy, but it's neither funny nor scary. SODOM THE KILLER seems to be a spoof, but a spoof of what exactly? I don't know. SODOM THE KILLER seems to be intentionally bad, but does that really distinguish it (and make its watching worthwhile) from flicks that turned out bad while striving for the good? That is the key question, and on its answer depends whether you'll find it enjoyable or just plain horrible. The film opens with a relatively straight face: a typical prologue of 'how the curse started'. It becomes slightly suspicious when the bloodshed comes, and you see it shot completely bloodless, and extremely poorly staged. Once you spot the very modern pipes in an 18. century castle you realize that perhaps you're not supposed to take this seriously. OK, so far so good. But, once you see through the real intention, does that make the film any more enjoyable? Well, that's where SODOM THE KILLER lost me. 

I do not deny, some of the jokes are not too bad: for example, an evil master-plan to replace one single bag of real money with counterfeits manages to create a nation-wide inflation and is followed by a starving family massacre of the entire restaurant because they cannot pay for the meal. Also, there are plenty visual jokes which try to make the film's deficiencies into its strengths, like using an obvious dummy instead of a human stand-in for a fight scene. Later on you see a life-sized photograph of an actress glued to the back window of a car in full-speed instead of a stunt double. If that's your idea of humor, you'll laugh yourself senseless. What else do we have here? Toy aero planes instead of real (or at least CGI) ones. Dodgy rear-screen projection in several cases: in one scene, a toy-train in stop-motion is 'derailed' in a fuzzy rear-screen projection while the video-sharp shot actors react exaggeratedly in front of the screen. In another, towards the end, a character abandons the 'car' and runs off the rear-screen projection down the corridor. Numerous such winks and reminders of the medium of cinema and its conventions make this flick a solid inspiration for another of those dry academic essays on post-modern discourse in contemporary film, layers of reality and their appropriation in genre cinema, and the like. Yeah, right. But does THAT make the film any more fun? 

How hard is it to make an intentionally bad film? It's cheap, and does not even pretend that there was anything remotely resembling a budget around. Shot on digital video, it looks cheap and ugly. Its look becomes tiresome pretty soon, just like its humor, or what passes for it. The whole thing leaves a strong impression that perhaps it could be palatable only with a strong dose of alcohol or some stronger brain-addling additive, in which case the silliness might be alchemically turned into entertainment and the time might no longer be a factor. You see, a good spoof should not exceed 85 minutes, whereas this one is at least 20 minutes too long. If you watch this sober, you'll feel almost every one of those minutes taken away from you.
SODOM THE KILLER also presents one of the more blatant cases of false advertising in recent times. The DVD case shows off a dark and gloomy, possibly satanic imagery, and promises that it comes 'from the creator of RINGU'. Uh-uh, I'm creeped out already! I wish they lied about the latter. Sadly, this flick is really written and directed by Hiroshi Takahashi, the genius who wrote the screenplay for the original RINGU - but also the dumb-ass responsible for its underwhelming sequels and even for the despicable American remake-sequel, THE RING 2. Why should a man like him want to be involved with an homage to Ed Wood and Ray Dennis Steckler right now and in this manner is anyone's guess. As it stands now, I think another RINGU is required from him to annul this mediocre (at best) endeavor. 

From the above it's quite obvious that you should not expect a horror film, or anything remotely similar in quality to RINGU. No horrors, no creepiness, not even a trace of sodomy - unless the latter refers to the feelings of those innocent souls who buy or rent this DVD expecting a scary movie and end up being f***ed in the ass by a completely different, dumb creature!