Lesson of Evil
Make no mistake about it – Lesson of Evil is Takashi Miike’s most malevolent movie since Audition back in 1999. This comment is not to indicate that the gruelling gore of Ichi the Killer (2001) or the sicko set-pieces of Visitor Q (2001) have been forgotten about. Oh no, nothing of the sort – rather, this conclusion is a testament to the brooding, bloody terror that Lesson of Evil spills across the screen. Even more contemporary, disturbing and even prolonged in its ultra-violent nastiness than Miike’s past genre efforts, Lesson of Evil should be seen as a new totem of psycho-cinema excess. Certainly, after his more accessible, mainstream works, such as the visually stunning Thirteen Assassins (2010) and the family orientated Ninja Kids (2011), Miike is back at doing what he does best: challenging and subverting generic expectations.
However, don’t say you weren’t warned…
Lesson of Evil brings us into the world of the impeccable handsome English teacher Mr. Hasumi (Itô Hideaki – a familiar face from Miike’s exemplary Sukiyaki Western Django). Hasumi is popular with his students and his colleagues, but underneath his suave and sophisticated demeanour is a brutal sociopath who feels empathy for absolutely no one. Hasumi murdered his parents in his teens, moved to America to pursue a degree and then an MBA, worked in a US-based investment bank, and then returned to Japan where, during his stint at a local high school, his pupils began to mysteriously commit suicide. The trigger for more murderous activity arrives when a young girl called Miya makes a pass at him. Miya has been sexually abused by the school’s physical education instructor, and feels solace in the clean-cut visage of Hasumi. He begins sleeping with the girl in the apartment of one of his colleagues: a homosexual man (played by Takehiro Hira) who teaches art and is also embroiled in a secretive affair with a student.
Back in his own abode, Hasumi repeatedly plays Mack the Knife and becomes obsessive about two big, black crows that live outside his window. Flashbacks to his life in America reveal that the teacher found a male serial killer to enjoy his activities with – although the man came to a fiery end at the hands of the equally deranged Hasumi. Meanwhile, a lecturer in science (played by Mitsuru Fukikoshi from Cold Fish) begins to become very wary about his colleague – is he really as perfect as his outward, everyday demeanour and impeccable physical beauty indicates?
As with Audition, Miike builds up the suspense to almost unbearable proportions with Lesson of Evil. Based on a best-selling Japanese novel, the film heads towards an epic climax that warrants a few words of warning because, quite frankly, it is likely to offend and upset practically everyone. Given the recent rash of school shootings emanating from America, Miike replaces the harrowing image of a frustrated high school teenager going berserk in an orgy of bullets with the picture of an adult destroying his entire academic year. This ultimate (and almost unbearable) murder spree, whist not without moments of dark humour – including a talking rifle that becomes indicative of the mental state of Hasumi and his gradual descent into Patrick Bateman-style madness – proves to be difficult watch. The ‘lesson of evil’ that Miike seems to emphasise is that finding an excuse, or attempting to locate an understanding, for sadistic activity is difficult, if not impossible – some people just are what they are. Whether or not this is a deceptively self-aware comment on Miike’s own ultra-violent fantasies and cinematic depictions is anyone’s guess – as with the director’s greatest achievements, Lesson of Evil is not without a degree of satirical reflexivity.
Inevitably, comparisons will be made between this punishing horror pot-boiler and the likes of Battle Royale (2000) and Confessions (2010) – but Lesson of Evil is a little more claustrophobic and even pessimistic than either film. Japan has a tough schooling and work system – of this everyone will probably know – but Lesson of Evil is less interested in exploring the expectancies and pressures of young adulthood and more about exploitation, image, obedience, repression and tutelage. The end slaughter, which runs for over half an hour, is colourfully presented and yet desperately sad. Few auteurs of excess have managed to provide a screen gut-punch quite like Miike, and Lesson of Evil is no exception. It is compulsive and yet absolutely horrific. In a strange way, this is why it comes with our full recommendation.
Featuring some tremendous acting performances, including a young cast that gives their respective roles as uniform-clad victims-in-waiting their all, an occasionally delirious soundtrack and many haunting moments of sanguine-spillage, this is an evocative but exceptional terror title. Of course, Lesson of Evil will not be for everyone. For those who are even slightly squeamish, our advice is to proceed with caution, but anyone that has been missing the Miike that once shocked and surprised us with Audition will doubtlessly enjoy having their nerves rattled.