Erupting forth with a ditty swollen in upbeat kernels and bathed in splashes of unremitting sunshine, Australian soap Neighbours paints a cheery portrait of neighbour relations. Sure, it’s not always grinning barbeques and chuckling cork-hats, but we can always rely on swathes of merriment to claw away those doldrums. However, not all of us can live adjacent to Harold Bishop, to be shone on by his uplifting jowls when just punched in the gut by a frustrating day. No, some of us aren’t that lucky. Look at Matthew Modine and Melanie Griffith in Pacific Heights: youthful, prosperous couple, they buy a nice San Fran house, rent out the bottom apartment, but what they don’t know is that they’re going to get a tenant who is a psychopathic Michael Keaton. Talking of tenants – that Roman Polanski, he’s a wild one, caused his neighbours plenty of midnight turmoil, running around in street-corner garb, flicking a knife at all angles. And Corey Feldman in The Burbs – if I’d been there I’d have said to old man Hanks ‘forget about those eccentrics next door, it’s that dodgy boy from The Goonies who needs a good day’s fist-to-face action.’
Yasuo Inoune picks up this baton of neighbour-melodrama, exquisitely greased already by everyone from Hitchcock (Rear Window) to Henenlotter (Basketcase), and drives it straight into the realm of the psychothriller with The Neighbour #13.
Set much of the time around the sort of small apartment complex we’ve come to expect from every Japanese film not featuring samurai, this number orbits the fortunes of two of the doors on this terraced selection-box. Having just moved into the ground floor shelter of number thirteen (fairly trite, I know), the shy Juzo loves nothing more than to peacefully sit in his orange body-warmer, meticulously sifting through his boxes of belongings. Upstairs resides a young family: the father, bravado permeating every expletive lunging from his throat, the mother, sores of repressed vigour bouncing out her cleavage, and the son, his eyes shaped like the Playstation 2’s analogue joypad. Juzo gets a job at a local building site, a place where yer man from upstairs is a foreman, one who likes nothing better than to beat, tease and bully the peons placed under his tyrannical wing. Things are not looking too promising for poor Juzo and his gentle demeanour. But yet, something rumbles underneath the surface, something revelling in decadent violence.
A handful of cuts to a dreamlike sequence involving a naked Juzo in a remote shed tell us that something is not quite right with this lad, and later we discover that not only does Juzo have an unpleasant neighbour living inside the studio above him, but he also has an unpleasant neighbour living inside his own head. That’s right – Juzo is victim to an acute case of alternating personality. And unfortunately for him, the scarred ogre who inhabits his other side is mentally deranged and intent on serving everyone he comes across the largest portions of pain and suffering he can cook up. Juzo can only stand by and passively watch as person upon person is introduced to this psychotic’s wrath.
The most obviously pressing issue to note here is that the spectre of Takashi Miike permeates the entire film. Popping up for his own cameo at one point, the Japanese director is able to recuperate some of cameo-kudos formerly-lost after his pointlessly hilarious skit in Hostel. Beyond that, not only is the film produced by the man who did the paperwork for Fudoh: The New Generation (the film that marked Miike’s escape from the world of TV movies), but in the columns headed Style and Tone, we can also see a splattering of the notorious cult icon.
Taking us a step-down from the effects-loaded razzmatazz of some of the more recent Miike projects, such as The Great Yokai War (a live-action Miyazaki, no doubt) and Izo (a bloated, pretentious hiccup, no doubt), The Neighbour #13 harkens back to the days when budgets were squeezed by threats and shooting schedules were written on a pinhead. Easing comfortably into the chair of dark visuals, grimy atmosphere and deadpan bloodshed, this film has Miike’s name written all over it. But it’s not his name this time, it’s Yasuo Inoune’s, a first-time director adapting a manga, and doing a good job of it. Showing much more restraint in terms of bloodshed than the man already mentioned too much in this review, and creating a cold, sterile atmosphere, he has enough individual style to warrant respect in his own right.
However, another comparison arises when considering the film narrative, for it turns out Juzo wasn’t always like this, he wasn’t born with intrinsic bipolar, but was traumatised into it after a difficult regime of bullying during his high school years. Like Ichi The Killer’s eponymous maniac, childhood tumult shapes the neuroses that are to later morph into a volatile adult mentality. It’s a preoccupation with the character-defining days of youth that’s a path well-trodden by Miike, and echoes are difficult not to notice here. Even the ending, swamped in ambiguity, seems a reverberation of the enigmatic climax to that aforenamed flick.
It may be mired in the hues of its influences, but The Neighbour #13 remains no less enjoyable. Pumped full of little idiosyncrasies and painted from a beautifully bleak palette, whilst it may not be a classic, it nevertheless hints of a promising directorial style eager to be free of the chains of influences.