Takashi Miike is one of those directors that horror fans seem to be divided over. Is he good? Is he great? is he overrated? Is he not even worth discussing? It’s a division that can often cause horror fans to spiral into insane arguments. Is Audition really that amazing? Is Ichi The Killer really that entertaining? Is One Missed Call any good?
Personally, I find Miike’s work to be engaging, engrossing, and genuinely fascinating. His mix of black humor with intense bursts of visceral violence and tense, nerve-tautening scenes truly appeal to me, all with the understanding that the films also suffer a bit from overstaying their welcome, often times seeming like the would benefit from a simple trim here and there.
And so, with this attitude, I entered into one of his latest films, the teacher-student thriller Lessons Of The Evil, which stars Hideaki Itô (from Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django) as Seiji Hasumi. The basic premise of the film is that Hasumi is a well loved teacher at the local high school. The students adore him, often times confiding in him when they feel no one else will listen. The teachers highly respect him. Even the local police are enamored by his charms. What they don’t realize is that Hasumi is quietly planning the murder of every student in his class.
Much like other Miike films, Lesson Of The Evil builds slowly, characters given time to develop and subplots given attention, thus creating a believable world that deals with issues such as sexual abuse, bullying, and teacher-student relationships.
It’s impossible to not be drawn in by Hasumi’s charm and winning smile. He’s a handsome, well built man who has great energy and charisma. When he teaches his students, he does so with fervor and playfulness. He’s the kind of teacher that we all wish we had or the one that we remember the most. Because of Itô’s fantastic acting abilities, I found that I was unable to stop rooting for him, even as he goes about plotting the death of his class.
When the violence begins, it is fast, it is shocking, and it doesn’t stop. Nearly half of the film is dedicated to the climactic scene where Hasumi stalks the halls of the school at night, picking off one student after another as they decorate and design a haunted house. There is enough gore and blood to satisfy Miike fans and the deaths are in no way tame or restrained, instead compounded by a healthy dose of black humor.
Miike deftly picks his shots, creating some beautiful moments. He also even dives a bit into found footage, cleverly winking at the current genre obsession. At the same time, the sound design and music is given due attention, the recurring theme of The Threepenny Opera adding and adding to the suspense.
As I mentioned above, Miike films often overstay their welcome by a smidge and would benefit from a slightly tighter final cut. However, that doesn’t draw away from how thoroughly entertaining and exciting Lesson Of The Evil is. Miike’s return to ultra-violence is exactly what we’ve been wanting and should absolutely not be missed.