Not only have writers-directors-editors Katsuto and Kenji Kobayashi acknowledged that their inspiration for their first feature, "The Neighbor," is Akira Kurosawa's "Ikiru," a great classic of the world cinema, but they are also allowing their film to be released alongside a revival of the 1952 masterpiece. (Laemmle's Sunset 5 in West Hollywood will be showing the films in separate auditoriums.)
"The Neighbor" shares with its predecessor the story of a marginalized office worker discovering the meaning of his life after a confrontation with mortality. Whereas "Ikiru" is a highly accessible film of great sweep and vigor with universal appeal, the Kobayashis have made an unabashed art film, demanding, with a measured pace and much ambiguity. It does possess some fine acting and a handsome look.
Tomoya Ogaki's Shunsuke works in general services for a Tokyo ward but is frequently assigned to duties in the welfare department. It's a job for which the determined loner is ill-suited, but two individuals shatter his isolation. The first is a troubled gay youth (Yuki Hiyori); the second is the 83-year-old woman (Yuriko Abe) who lives next door to Shunsuke. He complains about her incessant singing, but in doing so becomes involved with the person who will transform his life.
Abe is a remarkable actress who embodies all the mysteriousness of the woman she is playing, a figure who might actually possess a mythical lineage. But she is a woman in need through whom Shunsuke, who is equally well drawn by Ogaki, discovers the value of being needed.
"Neighbor" is no masterpiece but is distinctive and deeply felt.
"The Neighbor." No MPAA rating. In Japanese with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.