"Lesson of the Evil"

Putting aside problems of grammar, Takashi Miike's "Lesson of the Evil" is nothing more than a slick slasher pic of debatable merit, except to die-hard fans of the genre.

Putting aside problems of grammar, Takashi Miike’s “Lesson of the Evil” is nothing more than a slick slasher pic of debatable merit, except to die-hard fans of the genre. Miike has of course never been one to bother with the finer points of taste, let alone decency, yet given recent history, there’s something particularly troubling about a gleeful gorefest that climaxes with high-school students being mowed down by a psychopath. Perhaps making the perp their teacher allows enough differentiation to comfort those involved, though others should be more dubious. Miike keeps churning ‘em out, and fests keep slotting ‘em in.

The cult helmer is firmly in splatter mode, more in line with “Fudoh: The New Generation” and “Audition” than his more restrained (for him) recent pics. A Miike-produced four-part miniseries titled “Lesson of the Evil: Prologue” began airing mid-October, and is presumably stirring up local biz before its big brother hits theaters later this month. Apparently the smallscreen storyline provides background, though enough is provided in the movie, which ends with a “To be continued” note, suggesting there’s plenty more material to play with.

English teacher Hasumi (Hideaki Ito, “Sukiyaki Western Django”) is the kind of instructor schoolgirls swoon over: good-looking, dynamic and empathetic. Of course, no one knows he’s a sociopath who murdered his parents while still in his teens. Physics teacher Tsurii (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) suspects something isn’t right; he’s discovered that Hasumi’s last school experienced a wave of suicides, but nothing points to him directly.

Hasumi learns that student Miya (Erina Mizuno) is being sexually harassed by gym teacher Shibahara (Takayuki Yamada) and suggests a way to stop it. He also doesn’t resist the young woman’s pass at him, and the two start a fling at the apartment of rich, gay art teacher Kume (Takehiro Hira), who’s having his own inappropriate affair with student Masahiko (Kento Hayashi).

Despite the cozy setup, a few bothersome individuals annoy Hasumi, so he knocks them off in creative ways, all accompanied on the soundtrack by various versions of “Mack the Knife.” Flashbacks, especially to his time in the U.S. under the influence of his even more psychotic friend, Clay (Jab), make clear the depths of Hasumi’s depravity, so his subsequent nefarious actions don’t come as much of a shock.

At this point, the art direction becomes the movie’s most impressive element. No doubt there are many who will enjoy each and every discharged casing, and even squeamish auds will be relieved when some of the screechier students get blasted to kingdom come. It’s precisely this element that’s so objectionable: Even were the memory of the Breivik massacre, among others, not so fresh, there’s something deeply unseemly about turning a high-school bloodbath into an adrenaline-pumping pleasure ride.

Ito is undeniably charismatic and enjoys the role to the hilt. Ever the professional, Miike knows how to put together a good-looking, well-made package, and there’s nothing to fault him with technically, except for the aforementioned overuse of “Mack the Knife.”

Lesson of the Evil

Japan

Production

A Toho release of a Toho Eiga, OLM production, in cooperation with Bungeishunju. (International sales: Toho, Tokyo.) Produced by Koji Higashi, Misako Saka, Toru Mori. Executive producer, Minami Ichikawa. Co-executive producer, Akihiro Yamauchi. Directed, written by Takashi Miike, based on the novel by Yusuke Kishi.

Crew

Camera (color), Nobuyasu Kita; editor, Kenji Yamashita; music, Koji Endo; production designers, Yushi Hayashida, Eri Sakushima; costume designer, Yuya Maeda; sound (Dolby Digital), Jun Nakamura; line producer, Tomoyuki Imai; assistant director, Kentaro Harada; casting, Sawako Ohzu. Reviewed at Rome Film Festival (competing), Nov. 8, 2012. Running time: 126 MIN.

With

Hideaki Ito, Fumi Nikaido, Shota Sometani, Kento Hayashi, Kodai Asaka, Erina Mizuno, Takayuki Yamada, Takehiro Hira, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Jab, Takemi Fujii. (Japanese, English dialogue)

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