Lesson of Evil

UK Release Date 26th April 2014
Director Takeshi Miike
Starring Hideaki Ito
Runtime 129 Minutes
Certificate 18
Reviewer Mark
Reviewed 13th September 2014

Even though Takeshi Miike’s Lesson of Evil is adapted from Yusuke Kishi’s 2010 novel of the same name and inhabits much of the same space as Battle Royale, you can’t help but wonder if the prolific director (over 90 productions since his 1991 debut) has ever read The Lesson by the performance poet Roger McGough. McCough writes about a disgruntled teacher who takes drastic action against his unruly class:

He threw the sword at a latecomer

it struck with deadly aim

then pulling out a shotgun

he continued with his game

The first blast cleared the backrow

(where those who skive hang out)

they collapsed like rubber dinghies

when the plug's pulled out

McGough’s poem was an attack on capital and corporal punishment but Lesson of Evil attempts to flesh out the back-story of its psychopathic educator, English teacher Seiji Hasumi. Handsome, urbane and thoroughly charming, Hasumi has a legion of devoted students who carry him along like a staffroom god. On the surface he’s the hip teacher who understands their teenage angst, all too often stifled amongst the rote learning of information to pass exams.

These ceaseless examinations, a feature of the Japanese education system that threaten to stamp out critical thinking and individual thought, drive some students to cheat by using cell phones in a calculated attempt to discredit the mark schemes. The duplicitous Hasumi snares this opportunity to introduce a jamming machine rendering all phone signals useless whilst at the same time siding with his students and blaming the, “faculty decision” on the school. 

Not everyone at the school is convinced by Hasumi’s dazzling smile and perfect hair. Physics teacher Tsurii constantly watches his dashing nemesis from over the top of computer screens or from the corner of the staffroom, while the other teachers swoon over Hasumi’s every suggestion. Something doesn’t sit well with the quiet academic described as a, “lurker” by the image obsessed youths who are repelled by Tsurii’s habit of coughing up dollops of phlegm into his handkerchief. 

Tsurii isn’t the only one who has found gaps in Hasumi’s stunning résumé that contains Harvard College, an MBA and a two-year stint at the European investment bank, Morgenstern. A small group of students begin to doubt the messianic schoolmaster’s intentions when dealing with sexual impropriety between male members of staff and other students. Hasumi, like Japan, uses his colleagues’ shame as an agent of social control, furthering his grand Machiavellian scheme that reveals itself in stunning violence and depravity in the extended climax.

Hasumi’s unrelenting massacre of his students amongst their own psychedelic art installation dressing the school is in stark, bloody contrast to the slow burn horror of the film’s first half. Having pulled all of the complicated strings of his plan together, Hasumi prowls the corridors and halls with a shotgun, his strange serpentine whistling truly terrifying as he rounds on a bunch of confused students. As the blood sprays and splashes and the bodies begin to mount up to so many chunks of meat, it’s hard to imagine that Miike has an allegorical message in mind at all.

We’re reminded that the correct check and balances must be in place to protect our school children but the slaughter is so shamefully exhilarating that we reload every shotgun shell with Hasumi. The rattle of every spent cartridge rattles around us like a guilty reminder of how reprehensible his actions are but we ignore them anyway waiting to see how many more students will fly across the screen. The action is brutal and ingenious, protracted like in Miike’s excellent 13 Assassins and hypnotic like a first person shooter video game.

Lesson of Evil demands we revel in the carnage but afterwards we catch ourselves. We’ve fallen into the trap of our morbid fascination with school massacres; we realize to our horror that we can’t care too much about them beyond the initial shock of that first report from America or Norway or wherever or we’d do more to stop them. They obsess us and if the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary School doesn’t move America to ban guns and only serves the NRA to want to arm teachers then Lesson of Evil is the least of our worries.

Let’s leave the last word to Roger McGough:

The teacher surveyed the carnage

the dying and the dead

He waggled a finger severely

'Now let that be a lesson' he said

Check out the trailer here.

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