Can one be a fan of Takashi Miike? There are those who claim to be, but he churns out so many films (could be up to four or five features a year) that I’m not convinced anyone in the whole planet has seen the entirety of his work. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Japanese director hasn’t seen them all himself. His canon has ranged from police procedural thrillers to romantic musical comedies to big action blockbusters. In Lesson of Evil, he returns to the genre he is most affiliated with – horror, with an extra dose of bloody gooiness.
But before we get to the bloody gooiness, there is a lot of laborious backstory to go through. Hideaki Ito plays Mr. Hasumi, a handsome English teacher at a reputable Japanese high school. He’s super charming, super smart and his students gravitate towards him. But of course, this seemingly charismatic personality is just a deceitful façade. Through a series of convoluted flashbacks, we discover that this seemingly decent man is actually a deranged, psychotic maniac with a dark, murderous past. And now, after snaking his way into the academic system, he’s began preparation for his next killing spree.
The first 90 minutes of this overblown, overlong, hammily acted Miike production is a chore to sit through. The high-schoolers are relentlessly annoying and their incessant classroom chatter is profoundly uninteresting. Mix this with the incoherent plot points and the insipid references to Norse mythology and we’ve got ourselves an almighty turd pudding. It’s only due to the wildly violent last third that this isn’t a complete disaster. As the school pupils begin to get picked off one by one, the terror sets in and the giddy entertainment value ratchets up. Sure, the murders are repetitive and it gets a little tiresome, but it’s conducted with such venom and assured conviction, that I can’t help but begrudgingly admire it.
Nevertheless, Lesson of Evil is by no means a good picture. The biggest problem with it, and the issue with most of Miike’s work, is how insubstantial it feels. In a world where school shootings seem to happen every other month, you would think this would be the perfect opportunity for satire or social comment like Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, or even Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale. But frustratingly, Miike isn’t interested pathos or in being nuanced – he’s only interested in the cartoonish bloodshed that floods our screens.