Kids can be really cruel and, if Neighbor No. 13 is any indication, Japanese kids are particularly harsh. Throughout his youth, Juzo Murasaki (Oguri Shun) is tormented and physically abused by his classmates. Lead by Tohru Akai (Hirofumi Arai), the abusers finally take this abuse way too far, pouring acid on Juzo's face in a science class. He is badly disfigured but his cold-blooded, unsympathetic attackers don't seem to mind. Years later, Juzo gets a job working alongside his childhood nemesis on a construction site and learns that Tohru's abusive ways remain intact.
Around the same time, Juzo undergoes a surreal and radical split. No longer visibly scarred, he manufactures a demonic, bullying alter-ego (played by Japanese kabuki superstar Nakamura Shido) that appears to have inherited his formerly mangled face. Known as No. 13, this violent figure appears only when Juzo's rage reaches the boiling point. Seeking brutal vengeance for all the indignities committed against Juzo in childhood, No. 13 targets Tohru and anyone else who gets on Juzo's nerves. Needless to say, it's not a pretty sight.
Acclaimed Japanese music video director Yasuo Inoue makes his feature directorial debut with this terrific adaptation of Santa Inoue's celebrated manga from 1994. In spite of the manga's popularity, Santa resisted screen adaptation for almost a decade. Once he discovered Yasuo's work, however, Santa immediately changed his mind. So what exactly did he see? That becomes immediately apparent in the film's beautiful opening sequence. Yasuo is a gifted visual stylist with a refined, exacting precision that occasionally resembles anime?in fact, there's a violently grotesque animated sequence in the middle of the film?and there's plenty of over-the-top, music video flourishes, throughout.
At the same time, Inoue is capable of carefully measured restraint. With some genuinely creepy imagery and a distinctive, unusual pace, it's almost impossible to relax while watching this troubling, atmospheric film. Takashi Miike fans should also take note. Look carefully for both his influence and a brief cameo as an angry, irritating neighbour who is attacked by the title character. In fact, like a lot of Takashi Miike's films, this feels like an art film trapped in a horror film's body. Fans of either should be pleasantly surprised.
Juzo Murasaki is constantly victimized by a group of school thugs headed by Toru Akai. They beat him up, douse acid on his face, and do all kinds of mean things mean kids do. He doesn't fight back, which only encourages his aggressors. Slowly anger and resentment builds. Years later, from the deep recesses of Murasaki's raging psyche another self splits off. A violent, powerful, angry doppelganger from hell develops, existing only to avenge past injustices. This alter ego is cruel and amoral, eliminating anyone that gets in its way.