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After a run of more respectable and commercial outings, Miike Takashi gets his hands (very) dirty again with “Lesson of the Evil”, following up “Thirteen Assassins” and “For Love’s Sake” with a shocking blast of madness and murder. Adapted from horror author Kishi Yusuke’s popular 2008 two-parter “Aku no Kyoten”, the film focuses on the exploits of a psychotic teacher played by actor Ito Hideaki, in a huge departure from his heroic role in the blockbuster “Umizaru” franchise. Feeling at times like a cross between “Battle Royale” and “Confessions”, like most of Miike’s prolific output, the film has enjoyed a successful run at a variety of festivals around the world, being a perfect candidate for midnight screening sessions.
Ito Hideaki plays Hasumi Seiji, the new English teacher at the prestigious high school Shinko Academy, who has returned to Japan after graduating from Harvard and working in the US. A charismatic and caring fellow, Seiji acts as a confidant and mentor for his students, and appears to believe deeply in his profession, going out of his way to help a young girl (Mizuno Erina, “Shock Labyrinth 3D”) who is being sexually harassed by the school’s sleazy gym teacher (Miike regular Yamada Takayuki, also in the “Crows Zero” films). However, all is not as it seems, and with Seiji’s behaviour becoming increasingly manipulative and excessive, it’s clear that he is planning something unpleasant.
“Lesson of the Evil” is a film of two quite different halves, the first part of its two hours plus running time being a serious and effective look at high school society and the difficulties of student teacher relationships. Though the viewer obviously knows from early on that Seiji is a homicidal fellow, during these opening stages his psychosis is kept mainly in the background, with Miike slowly and patiently introducing his true nature through hints, odd flashbacks and instances of sinister behaviour. Instead, the film focuses on the various different problems at the school, painting a pretty grim picture of life there, with bullying being rife, and several of the staff members assaulting or carrying on inappropriate associations with the students. It’s quietly tense and gripping to watch the many ways in which Seiji works himself into these various situations, taking advantage where he can and laying the seeds for his coming scheme, and though the film is slow to really get going in terms of the mayhem promised by its premise, Miike’s script is sharp and involving, in a mean spirited kind of way.
Everything changes after an extended hallucinogenic sequence reveals Seiji’s past and the depth of what he’s capable of, and for the last forty five minutes or so the film kicks up several gears and goes into a full-on meltdown. Without wishing to spoil the details, the film very quickly gets incredibly violent and bloody, notching up a huge body count in spectacularly over the top fashion. It’s jaw-dropping, far-out stuff, and given the subject matter, for many viewers this will make the film pretty hard to watch, perhaps even more so than some of the director’s previous forays into shock cinema. What makes it even more so is the ruthless, matter of fact way in which both Miike as director and Seiji as psycho protagonist go about their bloody business – since the film has really only paid cynical lip service to trying to get the viewer to care about the students, the mounting death toll gives the film a wickedly bleak and nihilistic air.
At the same time though, like most of Miike’s best efforts, the film is filled with eccentric touches and a definite streak of pitch black humour. With the characterisation of the students being largely on the “Battle Royale” level of inane dialogue and clichéd relationships, the film does feel like it’s verging on satire or social commentary, though this is handled with cynical subtlety and doesn’t get in the way of the basic horror of the premise. It does however serve to make the many murders and the vast amount of bloodletting feel almost surreal, the school being transformed into a garish mini-hell. Miike also throws in some bizarre fantasy touches, the film venturing into Cronenberg territory with entertaining results, and since it never really offers any explanations or shows any interest in exploring exactly why Seiji is the way he is, this all contributes to one big grand guignol explosion of evil.
For those attuned to this kind of extreme fun and fans of Miike Takashi’s earlier cult hits, “Lesson of the Evil” should definitely hit the spot, especially during its wildly gruesome final act. While perhaps a little too cold, mocking and excessive to be taken seriously or to be emotionally affecting as well as viscerally shocking, it’s a fantastic piece of well-crafted, gleefully malicious and outrageous shock cinema.
Takashi Miike (director) / Yûsuke Kishi (novel), Takashi Miike (screenplay)
CAST: Takayuki Yamada … Tetsuro Shibahara
Hideaki Itô … Seiji Hasumi
Shôta Sometani … Keisuke Hayamizu
Fumi Nikaidô … Reika Katagiri