I learnt from watching Audition that you never take Takashi Miike movies at face value, he won’t let you. That movie was my introduction into the twisted world of the director, and this is the reason he has quickly become one of my favourites. From horror to gangsters, historical and even school movies like Crows Zero he shows a flexibility and an ability to bring fun to his work, while also masterfully handling the extremes. Lesson of Evil is a movie that risks coming across as boring especially in the first half when it is setting the scene for the violence to come. Whether you find it dull or the characters interest you, it knows how to get under your skin.
Seiji Hasumi (Hideaki Itô) is the popular teacher in school. Popular with the kids and the other teachers he fights to rid the school of cheating and to make school a better experience for everybody. The cracks start to show though when he starts to see widespread bullying in the school and even teacher and student relationships. Hasumi decides to take matters into his own hands and cleanse the school of everything not fitting his vision of the world, whatever it takes.
The first half of Lesson of Evil is used to set up Hasumi as the anti-hero of the piece. Charismatic and apparently a good person we see his day-to-day life in the school and his battle to rid exams of mobile phone cheating, stop bullying and even saving one of the pupils from apparent abuse from one of his colleagues. There is always a feel of an oppressing danger though in Lesson of Evil, something just isn’t right. Typical of Takashi Miike he creates a feeling of normality while twisting the reality around the central character, slowly but surely bringing out the true insanity in his growing violence and hallucinations.
The second half of the film is where Miike hits the level of twisted insanity that we know and love. The dark humour that we see on the screen is worryingly amusing especially in a school. The fact that we are seeing school kids being massacred on the screen should be (and is) worrying, and Miike’s style never lets up on the violence we see, that he doesn’t allow the violence to turn cartoonish keeps things harrowing. The blood soaked scenes are violent and to the point, the insanity growing in Hasumi’s head bring some truly messed up visuals to the screen. It is shocking and can be offensive at times, but when you are watching a Takashi Miike horror movie what do you expect?
The character of Seiji Hasumi has to be charismatic and a man of mystery. Hideaki Itô plays the role with an edge that didn’t feel that far from Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman from American Psycho though they are to very different characters really. It’s the dark comedy that breeds the feeling of familiarity between the two, and seeing Hasumi slaughter school students to Mack the Knife does have that satirical feel of American Psycho’s Hip to be Square scene. I’m not sure just how satirical Lesson of Evil really is, but the comedy is definitely in effect in the violence we see on the screen no matter how dark it gets.
While Lesson of Evil isn’t Takashi Miike’s best work it is still enjoyable for fans of his more extreme work. Where some directors may hold back on the violence we see on-screen, especially when it features in school violence perpetrated by adults, Miike takes his usual blunt approach and goes straight for the jugular. If you are not easily offended then Lesson of Evil is well worth a watch.
Lesson of Evil is out now in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray