Saturday, 31 January 2015


We all know that Takashi Miike is one of the hardest working directors in the world right now, he's been knocking out up to three pictures a year for as long as I can remember. The diversity - particularly in recent years - has been quite staggering, with Miike lending his talents to period pieces (Hara-kiri), children's movies (Yatterman) and even the occasional musical (For Loves Sake). In fact, he hasn't made a full-length horror movie since 2003, even if he did dabble in the genre with standout segments in Three... Extremes and the Masters of Horror series.

Takashi Miike hasn't actually made that many horror movies but it's the genre he's most commonly associated with. One Missed Call was answered in 2003, Ichi the Killer lashed out in 2001 and Audition was released way back in 1999. Lesson of Evil has been a long time coming then, and even though his contribution to cinema has been overwhelming since then, it's his dark side that we cherish most, and Takashi's controversial new thriller does not disappoint.

Based on the two-part novel by horror author Kishi Yusuke, Lesson of Evil introduces us to Hasumi Seiji (Hideaki Ito), equal parts charming, conniving and deadly. Hideaki Ito has a blast playing against type as the popular high school teacher, only too happy to blackmail fellow teachers, have sex with students and kill his way out of trouble. Miike is all too aware of what his audience expects, so he holds back for the first hour, developing the characters and their twisted relationships before blowing us away with a bloodthirsty finale that pulls no punches. In fact, it will be interesting to see if this cut ever see's the light of day on American shores.

Performances are strong throughout. As good as the supporting cast is though, they pale in comparison to Ito's scene-stealing turn. Hasumi is a complex creation, but Ito's sublime take makes for compulsive viewing throughout. It's easy to see why he is respected by colleagues and pupils alike, Hasumi is the kind of guy that everybody loves, with the exception of one fellow teacher who refuses to believe anybody can be that flawless. Hasumi greets his students with a playful hair rub and even though they hate it, nobody ever complains. It's just his way.

His ways, of course, are more devious than they'll ever know. And those that do find out rarely get the chance to talk about it. The supporting characters, or 'victims' as I like to call them, are given room to breathe in the first half of the film. Miya (Mizuno Erina) is being sexually assaulted by her gym teacher (Yamada Takayuki) and might just be in love with everybody's favourite English teacher. Tsurii (Fukikoshi Mitsuru) - the Physics teacher - is memorable also, digging around in Hasumi's past and risking his life in the process. The way in which Miike disposes of his characters is both fun and surprising, but then, Takashi always did know how to shock his audience.

He turns up the Miike madness in the final act, fully embracing the demented chaos we have grown to love over the years. There's even room for an Elm Street style fantasy sequence that somehow feels right at home. I'll never listen to Mack the Knife in the same way again either, as Miike unleashes a wave of dark humour, jazzed up violence and bloody retribution. Morally dubious for sure, but it's not like Miike was going to make kids movies forever. 

Lesson of Evil sits (un)comfortable alongside Battle Royale, Audition and Confessions, and is all the more entertaining for it. The sharp shift in focus - from a serious examination of damaged relationships to a destructive orgy of violence - might alienate some viewers, but for fans of Miike it is the perfect tonic. Let's hope he doesn't leave it quite so long next time. The teasing finale gives us hope that he will be returning to the horror genre sooner rather than later, and it couldn't come soon enough. 

Lesson of Evil is a riotous blast from start to finish, anchored by a memorable lead turn and masterfully constructed by the master of cinematic madness. School's out. Good luck with that.

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