LESSON OF EVIL
English teacher Seiji Hasumi (Hideaki ITO) is on the outside a cool, handsome, well respected and well liked, by both fellow teachers and students, teacher in a Japanese high school. However, underneath this exterior is someone much darker. Suspicions of this other side start to appear as various students begin to disappear.
Lesson of Evil is adapted from the horror novel Aku no Kyoten, and the film also feels like it shares a lot of influence from another famous serial killer novel, American Pyscho. Hasumi, like Patrick Bateman is from the outside a fairly dull and normal individual. He is handsome and dresses well, he teaches what seem to be interesting and engaging lessons and cares about the students as well as problems at the school. However, he hides a murderous side behind this mask, that appears every so often, sometimes with a flash of black humour. He even wears Patrick Bateman’s iconic translucent raincoat during a killing spree. What is different and interesting about Hasumi is that his killings are sometimes in service of a greater good. He is a teacher that the students trust and so they bring their problems to him, such as the issue that one female student is being sexually assaulted by another teacher, and he uses this information for his own purposes. Hideaki ITO plays Hasumi well and makes him truly feel like a friendly guy but someone who is also capable of darker acts, with a physicality that can seem imposing once he jumps in to murderous action and a scheming intelligence that he uses to manipulate people and tangle them in his web. It is the character of Hasumi that carries you through most of the film so it is a good job that he is a fairly interesting character.
The extremely prolific Takashi Miike has had enough practice at filmmaking over the years to reach the level that he is at now. As such, the production of the film is of a very high calibre and it is a pleasure to see some good plotting as certain details through the first two thirds of the film come in to play during the third. Though Lesson of Evil is stylistically a much more generic film compared to some of Miike’s more famous output, he still injects it with a small flashes of his dark and twisted sensibility. It is in the mind Hasumi that we get to see these flourishes such as a skinless corpse choking him from behind or a moving eye surrounded by pustulating red flesh that appears on the side of a shot gun that is also particularly Cronenbergian. One of Miike’s flaws however is that his movies do have a tendency to be overlong and this is the case with Lesson of Evil. At over two hours, I feel the film and the viewer’s interest is pushed to a limit. This is in part not especially helped by Lessons of Evil very much being a film of two halves. Though it is good for a film to take its time in building up to something rather than splurging straight away, the school drama of the first half is not necessarily strong enough to keep you really interested. Things kick into high gear for the bloody finale and the film ends on a high, though the card saying that the story is to be concluded dampens the effect a little. Come the last act you are there more for the action rather than any residual care for the characters. You are positioned with Hasumi as the main protagonist but as he is the serial killer doing a lot of murdering then you don’t feel any concern for him and neither do you for the fairly carbon copy students, meaning that the denouement lacks an emotional punch.
Lesson of Evil is certainly one of Miike’s better films but it suffers from the same problems as his lesser output. Come for Hideaki OTI’s charismatic killer.