Lesson Of Evil (Cert 18)
1 Disc (Distributor: Third Window Films) Running Time: 129 minutes approx.
When the novel Aku no Kyoten by Yusuke Kishi – of recent anime hit From The New World fame – was published in 2010 it caused some consternation. So, like a moth to a flame prolific and controversial in his own right auteur Takashi Miike zeros in on this contentious offering to bring it to the big screen.
Seiji Hasumi (Hideaki Itō) is the popular English teacher at the exclusive Shinko Academy who has the admiration of both the pupils and the staff. If there is a problem he can sort out it with minimal fuss. However behind this handsome and amiable veneer lies a darker personality which gets a bit over excited when disgruntled student Keisuke Hayami (Shota Sometani) and nosey teacher Tsurii (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) probe into Hasumi’s past.
Miike returns to high school once more following the two Crows Zero films and the subversive but fun musical For Love’s Sake for this slow building jet black splatter fest that will probably have teachers around the globe allowing themselves a vicarious moment of joy as our sociopathic tutor racks up an impressive student body count in the claret drenched third act.
The promotional blurb accompanying Lesson Of Evil suggests “a cross between Battle Royale and Confessions” which is raising expectations a little too high to be frank. That isn’t to short change this film but a more valid comparison in this writer’s opinion would be Korean school based slaughter fest Death Bell. Of course it would be more preferable to Miike if this was judged on its own merits and it has enough of the maverick maestro’s unique touches to do so.
Kishi’s original novel came in two volumes and totalled around a thousand pages giving Miike the unenviable task of condensing that material into one 129 minute feature (Peter Jackson are you taking note?). Unfortunately, as prolific as Miike is, he still has a tendency to successfully measure when a film is too long or if the right material is being kept or ejected. The result here is a film with a rather flat first hour, a surreal second act before Miike hits his stride for the finale.
Hasumi opens his good guy campaign when the subject of cheating in exams is brought up and suggests confiscating all phones at the start of class then jamming the signal. It’s a success but ringleader Hayami is a tad miffed his scheme has been scuppered making enemy number one for Hasumi. Elsewhere gym teacher Shibahara (Takayuki Yamada) has been blackmailing pupil Miya Yasuhara (Erina Mizuno) for sexual favours after catching her shoplifting; again Hasumi steps in with the resolve.
With Hasumi’s popularity and influence over the school increases the jealous and unpopular Tsurii teams up with Hayami to research Hasumi’s past, noticing some irregularities with his history and some unnerving coincidences with some gruesome incidents at his previous school. Hasumi doesn’t take kindly to this invasion of privacy and his true psychopathic nature is revealed in gloriously violent fashion.
Similar to Patrick Bateman in American Psycho the clues are actually there that Hasumi isn’t what he seems but he is such a charming and personable chap we put it down to mere eccentricities. However unlike with Bateman, the reveal comes gradually and after a surreal flashback episode only then does the truth arrive.
The Battle Royale comparison is due to both tales featuring schoolkids being slaughtered for kicks but that is where it ends. The kids here are unarmed and on the defensive as Hasumi unleashes his bullet laden vengeance on all and sundry, with gleeful abandon and detached coldness. Never one to shy away from graphic violence Miike showers the school building with gallons of the red stuff, keeping the gore fans happy but limits the methods to gun and knife attacks only with some assisted rooftop plunges thrown in for good measure.
As we should expect Miike can’t resist injecting some black humour into the proceedings, some of which veers into some weird territory while others engender some guilty sniggers, such as the fate of a black crow and the underwear recognition test of one soon to be corpse. The crowning macabre moment is the climactic killing spree being played out to the strains of a Japanese version of the big band classic Mack The Knife!
Because of the time restrictions the characters outside of Hasumi aren’t afforded much development or focus, especially the kids but Miike ensures that we are sufficiently in tune with who needs our sympathy once the carnage starts. Aside from the odd trouble maker no-one is put in that awkward position of having the audience enjoying their demise when we should fear for them and it is a credit to the young cast – which includes Fumi Nikaido who is reunited with her Himizu co-star Shota Sometani – that they throw themselves into their performances to make us care.
Hideaki Itō is both suitably good looking and disarmingly imposing as Hasumi and immerses himself in the role with alarming comfort. His personality change is gradual and subtle which makes the transformation more effective than him just snapping. Mitsuru Fukikoshi’s spiky depiction of the slimy Tsurii compliments Hasumi’s mass approval and serves to give the audience a reason to root for this deranged nutter.
Just before the credits run the legend “To be continued” appears but as yet no sequel has appeared. The Hasumi character could strike again and if so, would it have the same effect second time around? Or perhaps this was Miike teasing us to the effect that people like Hasumi will still exist regardless?
Lesson Of Evil isn’t quite the sum of its parts as it could have been, the bloated opening and disjointed narrative proving a real stumbling block but the final act is a genuinely visceral and riotous treat in true Miike fashion. It may not win over any new fans but should satiate his extant following and disenfranchised teachers everywhere.
Making Of (2 hours)
Rating – ***
Man In Black