It might come as a surprise to some that Norman England, well-known for his work on Godzilla and other Kaiju and other contributions to Japanese cinema, also contributed more creatively to Japanese cinema. In 2006, he surprised the audience of the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival with his first feature film, The iDol. And, 7 years later, he gave birth to New Neighbor (2013).
A mid-20s secretary (Ayano), who does not only to endure sexual harassment at her Tokyo office, but also her mother’s repeated encouragements to get pregnant and ensure her future by marrying a well-to-do man. One day, a woman of her age (Asami) moves into the apartment next door. Our heroine is shocked to hear, through the common wall, the noises of her neighbour’s sexual adventures. One night, our heroine, highly interested to know the secret of her neighbour’s sexuality, sneaks into her unlocked room. What she finds is beyond anything she could have imagined.
From the very first scene, it is evident that our heroine has a rather complicated relation with sexuality. On the one hand, she fears (the predatory-like and opportunistic) male sexuality, but on the other hand she sometimes displays, by the way she dresses, her sexual femininity to the male Other (Narra-note 1). How can we understand this? In our view, the displaying of her sexuality is nothing but a trap for male subjects. The true aim of her promiscuous dressing-style is to find a male subject who succeed in avoiding the trap of objectifying her as merely an object to enjoy sexually. Who can see beyond her physical sexuality and meet her at the level of her subject?
The subjective problem she has with such objectifying male sexuality is made apparent by the way she reacts to her mother’s continued hounding to give her a grandchild and to ensure her future by ensnaring, via her pregnancy, a well-to-do man. But if we read some of the mother’s remarks more closely, we can argue that she urges her daughter to ‘sell’ herself as an object, a toy, to be sexually enjoyed, to ensure her own financial future.
Yet, it is not only the objectifying violence of male sexuality that instigates fear, but also – and this is more primordial – (her own) female sexuality, her own sexual drive as such. She is both repulsed and fascinated by the brazen sexuality of her neighbour. She is repulsed by the fact that a woman can give herself as object to enjoy to the male Other as well as fascinated by the fact that, in giving herself as sexual fetishized object, she finds her enjoyment. The relentless sexual sounds, furthermore, do not fail to sexually arouse our young heroine and give rise to a desire to uncover the secret of her indulgence in sexual enjoyment. Can her neighbour enable our young heroine to overcome the subjective obstacle – the obstacle of repulsion – to her own active sexual enjoyment (Narra-note 2)? Without giving an answer to this question or disclose the outcome of the narrative, we can reveal that the jazzy finale of New Neighbour is pleasingly bonkers – the fight with the dildos must be seen to be believed (Narra-note 3 (spoiler)).
The composition of New Neighbour stands out due to its dynamism. This dynamism is, of course, an outcome of England’s choice to employ a variety of cinematographical movement in his composition. The highlight of England’s composition is, without a doubt, his short musical compositional pieces, i.e. the moment where England lets the stylish jazzy music dictate the cinematographical composition and those other moments where he lets sound dictate his cuts. The former moment is not only visually pleasant, but also effective in evoking, in a very sensibly way, our heroine’s struggle with sexuality.
Of course, England cannot hide the low-budget nature of his film, but that does not hurt the film one bit. The reason why the financial limitations do not hurt the pleasing nature of New Neighbour is because England has kept the vision for his narrative in line with these limitations and did not try to craft a narrative that is far too ambitious. In fact, he proves that, even with a limited budget, one can make a narrative that is not only fun and visually pleasing, but also succeeds in challenging the spectator with its themes.
New Neighbour is a pleasant narrative that underlines, in more ways than one, the fact that sexuality can be very problematic for a (female) subject. England furthermore proves that even with a limited budget one make craft a great film that visually pleases the spectator and also succeeds in challenging the spectator.
Narra-note 1: This interpretation is somewhat negated by the fact that our heroine only dresses herself provocatively one time. Yet, we feel that this aspect does not problematize the ‘sexual’ dynamic of our heroine.
Narra-note 2: The first change that our heroine undergoes concerns her presence at her work. While her initial presence at her work, a presence dictated by her fear of male sexuality, invited men to harass her sexually, her new presence is a presence that instills fear of castration in men.
Narra-note 3: The finale succeeds in forcing the spectator to question our heroine’s fear of her own sexual enjoyment (and to question some of our statements). The finale implies, even if it introduces some nonsensicality into the narrative, that the outwards virginal fear of her own sexuality and search for someone who does not reduce her to a sexual object hides a carefully hidden insatiable thirst for sexual enjoyment. One could even contend that our heroine steps into her own unconscious when she enters her neighbor’s apartment.