To call Tajashi Miike a prolific filmmaker is an understatement, since 2010 alone he has managed to some how find the time to make ten films which goes some way to explaining how he’s been able to wrack up no less than ninety over the course of his career. That he is also a hugely versatile and always fascinating director makes his school based thriller Lesson Of Evil an intriguing premise.
In a Japanese high school it seems that bouts of cheating and bullying are the least of the students’ worries. For in their midst is teacher Seiji Hasumi (Hideaki Itô) a man with a dark past and a cunning ability to manipulate people to his will, a sociopath who relishes in nothing else than a bit of murder and mayhem. But when one of his students catches on to his game the cat is out of the bag and Hasumi will stop at nothing to make sure he is able to continue life as a free man.
The concept of Lesson Of Evil has a great premise. As is often the way with Asian cinema the themes of youth turning on adults is rife, the opening act certainly implies the youngsters rather than the teacher are the morally dark ones. But once Hasumi’s main story kicks in the film rapidly descends into nothing more than a clichéd splatter-fest that, while gore-soaked and over the top, is never remotely satisfying.
The film’s biggest issue is its ploddingly drawn-out narrative. It fails to conjure any real mystery, rather favouring plot plants that feel so forced they may as well have sonar resonating from them for later in the story. One such device sees the students learning to use a defibrillator that has the added functionality of recording sound once opened. Apparently the fact one of the students is wearing a Go-Pro camera in the final act escaped Miike from perhaps realising that sometimes keeping it simple really is the best solution.
But what really frustrates is Miike’s insistence in keeping Hasumi’s motivations clouded for the first half of the film. As such we’re left to assume there’s more here than meets the eye until finally jumping back to his time in America where he had a partner in murder before going solo. That Miike then attempts to throw in a form of David Cronenberg style Naked Lunch body-horror, in which we see Hasumi’s former cohort possess first a bird and then his shotgun, makes it all the more confusing rather than unsettling.
Itô is solid in the central role, dashingly good looking and sporting a killer shark-smile he certainly ticks all the right boxes for the psychotic part of the role. But he’s lacks the charisma of a Christian Bale in American Psycho and fails to conjure the empathy of an Anthony Perkins in Psycho. At the end of the day he’s just a plain old killer and asking us to get on board with him is a struggle for that reason and even more so because the kids he’s supposedly fighting are even more annoying.
If you want to see a genuinely chilling school-based Japanese thriller seek out Confessions. As it is Miike could have used some of that film’s slow-burn terror here. Lesson Of Evil manages to teach a thing or two about blood letting but as a whole it is an overlong exercise in education that fails to make the grade.