Sunday, March 13, 2011

Triskaidekaphilia: The Neighbor No. 13

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

At some point during these Japanese horror mindfucks, you just have to give in and go with it, or you'll end up hopelessly frustrated. I wouldn't say that the 2005 psychological thriller The Neighbor No. 13 (based on a popular manga series, and also due for the inevitable American remake, to be directed by James Wong) exactly makes sense, but it mostly holds together thematically, and that's really the most important thing in a movie like this. The plot is fairly recognizable: Bullied mercilessly as a child, Juzo grows up to be an angry, unstable adult. He moves in to the same apartment building as his one-time tormentor (living in the unluckily numbered unit) and plots revenge - or at least his unhinged alter ego does, as somewhere during the film Juzo splits into two different people played by two different actors. Or maybe they're just manifestations of the two sides of his personality.

There's a lot of "maybe" in this movie, and by the time you get to the confusing, surreal ending, you may be entirely lost. I admit I didn't quite understand how things wrapped up, and I was sort of at a loss as to what was real and what was just happening in Juzo's head. But along the way there is some decent suspense and some disturbing set pieces, as Juzo violently barrels through a few other people on the way to his childhood bully. The torments of his youth, too, are excessively cruel and unpleasant, and director Yasuo Inoue does a good job of building sympathy for Juzo even though he's clearly psychotic. The bully gets to be sympathetic as well, even though he's grown up to be just as much of an asshole as he was as a kid. There's a good amount of moral ambiguity to go along with the murky plotting, and that plus the eye-catching visuals carries the movie through its various slow spots.

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