Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 8 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
(Japanese with English subtitles)
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Written by: Takashi Miike
(based on the novel AKU NO KYOTEN by Yusuke Kishi)
Starring: Hideaki Ito, Takayuki Yamada, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Takehiro Hira, Shota Sometani & Fumi Nikaido
BATTLE ROYALE was released in Japan in the year 2000 and instantly received a huge amount of controversy about the content (teenagers being forced to kill other teenagers). Not until the PG-13 Americanized version of BATTLE ROYALE (a.k.a. THE HUNGER GAMES) was released, did cinephiles even receive a proper release of this film. It took BATTLE ROYALE twelve long years to get a release in the USA. Sure, there were other ways of seeing it (Region Free DVDs or Importing), but those who wanted a legit studio release would wait over a decade to see this film. Why am I going on about BATTLE ROYALE, when this review is about LESSON OF THE EVIL? Because I will very shocked if ROYALE’s fate doesn’t also mirror what eventually happens to this film (minus the Americanized PG-13 version).
Words can barely do justice to how dark, twisted, disturbing, and hideously funny this film is. The content alone will give it major controversy in the states. Since prolific filmmaker Takashi Miike is behind it, you know there’s a lot of care and effort put into it. It pays off, but it doesn’t lessen any of the total chaos unleashed in this sick film.
Hasumi is a well-liked, handsome teacher who seems to glitter in the social spotlight (as one of his fellow colleagues puts it). His students like him. His peers respect him. Overall, Hasumi seems like the perfect example that all teachers should strive to be. There’s just one little set back. Hasumi is actually a lunatic who’s systematically planning the murder of each and every one of his students. The film isn’t just about Hasumi plotting a mass murdering spree, because it interweaves different subplots involving the students and other teachers. Mature topics are addressed that could (and do) have entire features devoted to them such as abuse, bullying, and pedophilia. Taking center stage is still Hasumi as he uses each emotion and every circumstance around him to his cruel advantage. Will any of the students survive his rage or will he get away with his evil deeds?
Weird is one of the many words that could be applied to this film. It’s masterfully made (as Miike does have over 90 film credits to his name) and works in far more than the sense of just a slasher film (which a lot of people have been labeling it as). This is kind of like a Japanese Cronenbergian type of film. It’s bizarre, dark, and strange all the way through, but it also is entertaining beyond belief. The violence is shocking (as should be expected since we do see students being killed with a shotgun at point-blank range). There’s plenty of blood, gore, and even a brief scene of body-horror that comes into play (which makes perfect sense in the context of the film).
One of the key things that keeps this deranged movie going is that it doesn’t completely focus on the dark side of things and manages to have some genuinely funny moments without ever losing it’s edge. One joke worked hysterically well for me, especially because it came after such a horrible scene committed on film, that I was almost dying with laughter (pun intended). The performance of Hideaki Ito brings life to this insane and very charismatic main character that, though never rooting for him, we can’t help being interested in the next step of his bloody master plan. I appreciated how the pretty guy was the complete psycho and the ugly outcast member of the faculty is actually a bit of a hero to some extent.
Miike constantly pulls the rug out from the viewer’s feet too. There were multiple moments where I thought one thing was going to happen and it was completely reversed. It the sleight of hand trick that Miike pulls off as writer/director and he does so multiple times in ways that don’t get old. The only real problem I had with LESSON OF THE EVIL comes in some unnecessary flashbacks. We don’t need to know Hasumi’s background, because the less we know about something the scarier it is. However, we are given every bit of detail involving the events in this man’s life (from a teenager onwards) that led him to this horrifying decision.
LESSON OF THE EVIL is a ballsy movie that will naturally generate controversy, but it’s also extremely well made and damn entertaining. There are moments of humor that never detract from just how twisted the whole film is. So if you’re looking for something dark, shocking, and scathingly funny, with some original thought to it also, then check out LESSON OF THE EVIL (assuming that it ever gets released in America). This is one class you’ll want to attend!