Ever since Takashi Miike’s Audition was featured at the Rotterdam Film Festival in 2000, the Japanese director and IFFR have had a special relationship. Most editions have at least one of his films in the selection. Last year his video game adaptation, Ace Attorney, premiered at the festival, and this year two of Miike’s films are featured. His films range from goofy and family friendly to extremely violent and bizarre, and he’s good at both. I personally loved Ace Attorney and his samurai epic, 13 Assassins, is among my favorites as well. Needless to say I was very excited going into Lesson of the Evil. Man was I disappointed.
Warning: spoilers ahead!
Lesson of the Evil is about a seemingly fantastic and charming teacher at a Japanese secondary school that turns out to be batshit insane, and then proceeds to murder the entire school. That pretty much covers it. The first part of the movie has Mr. Hasumi being the cool teacher at the school. He’s popular among the students as well as the staff, a charming and stand-up guy, so it seems. However, one of Hasumi’s colleagues is suspicious, so does some research into Hasumi’s past aided by a student. Up to this point I kind of liked the film. The suspense created by not knowing exactly what Hasumi is up to, and if he knows whether they’re onto him or not, is thrilling. A very eerie soundtrack, including the insanely creepy original German version of Mack the Knife, further fuels the suspense.
Then about halfway through the film, after some really messed-up flashbacks that help establish Hasumi’s craziness, all subtlety in story-telling go out the window. Hasumi is outed as the psycho-killer and then goes on a psycho-killing spree. That’s it. There’s no more point to the movie, and the second half just consists of him walking through the school executing kid after kid with a shotgun.
Let me make clear that I have no problem with movie violence if it serves the story and is done creatively. I’m a big fan of Battle Royale, also a very violent movie involving Japanese school kids. The difference is, in BR the violence serves the story and in Lesson of the Evil it’s the other way around, at least for the second half of the film. It was all pretty tasteless and it seemed like Miike, aware of his reputation for violence in his movies, was just seeing how far he could take it. To me, it didn’t have any cinematic purpose whatsoever.
In the interest of giving credit where credit is due; the movie deserves a point for the suspenseful buildup in the first half, half a point for the very haunting score and I’ll give it another half a point for the semi-clever ending. Lesson of the Evil gets two Nerdskulls.
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