Lesson of the Evil – Review
High school teacher Seiji Hasumi is the most popular teacher at his school with an attractive smile. He is loved by all his students for his charisma and charming behavior. Yet, Seiji Hasumi is also completely psychotic. To solve some of his school’s problems, like bullying and sexual abuse, and to protect his true identity from being exposed, Seiji begins to murder his students and his coworkers one by one.
I am sure everyone can remember a particular teacher during their high school days whose popularity was known far and wide throughout the student body and faculty. They were the “cool” teacher who had a great sense of humor and didn’t really take their classes too seriously, often being lenient and fair towards disciplining any of their students. They were the teacher whose classes were also the envy of the remaining school faculty as well, with many teachers attempting to mimic them so they too can be as well-liked and favored. Now imagine if that teacher was also a murderous psychopath who would do anything to keep their violent past a secret from those around them. It is this stark dualism where we find director Takashi Miike’s Lesson of the Evil as a vivid exploration of mental illness coupled with absolute sadism, establishing a film that is certainly one of Miike’s most unsettling works in recent years.
Adapted from the mystery novel by author Yusuke Kishi, Lesson of the Evil opens with a discussion shared between the parents of a young Seiji Hasumi – superbly played as an adult by Hideaki Ito – as to his increasingly disturbing behavior, subsequently showing the young Hasumi grabbing a knife and entering the room of his parents. It is a dark, strangely alluring scene that establishes the tone of the film from the very beginning and offers a premonition of events to come. We then enter a group of teachers discussing how to address the dilemma of students cheating on exams, with Hasumi now an adult and employed as a teacher. What initially starts out as a simple exploration of faculty and student corruption at an elite high school soon develops into a character study of an individual that could only best be described as being a functional psychopath. He is seen continually positioning himself to have others take the blame for his devious actions, brilliantly devising plans that leave others unsuspecting of him being the true culprit.
It is a character study that works so well primarily because Hideaki Ito’s excellent performance in conveying the calculating and brutal Hasumi. Known primarily for his work in the Umizaru film series, Ito has often been typecast as the morally upstanding hero, free from being negatively influenced in any fashion and delegated to the role of being the ‘good guy’ in a lot of his previous performances. Lesson of the Evil both deconstructs this image of him as well as inverts it, utilizing Ito’s natural good looks to mask the dark psychological framework of his character. Hasumi is obviously viewed as an individual suffering from some sort of dissociative identity disorder, perhaps even leaning towards having a severe case of schizophrenia. His perceptive ability to switch from being a likable teacher to that of a vicious killer truly showcases Ito’s immense talent as an actor to essentially play two roles in one, balancing between them with ease. The casting of Ito is roughly spot on and it certainly adheres to the nature of the Hasumi character envisioned in the novel.
In many ways, the structuring of Lesson of the Evil is akin to Miike’s previous, immensely popular film Audition (1999). Like that film, Miike brings about a sense of eery suspense that slowly builds throughout the film, both from a purely aesthetic perspective as well as narrative wise. While the first half of the film primarily plays out as a tension-filled thriller as we are introduced to a host of characters that begin to realize that Hasumi is not exactly who he appears to be, the second half of the film consists of pure, unadulterated butchery that is relentless in showcasing that Hasumi is unquestionably a lunatic. Exploding with a furry of chaotic violence that would make even the most harden viewer squirm in their seats, it would appear that Miike is reveling in the countless slaughtering that ensues. This approach should come at no surprise for those familiar with Miike’s previous works though, including most recently that of the finale of 13 Assassins (2010), a film whose body count amounted in the dozens. But here the savagery of the killings seems more profound and meaningful in many ways, primarily due to the individual who is performing such brutality and who he is exacting it upon.
It would be wise to suggest that Lesson of the Evil is a film that is more a visceral experience through and through due to what it chooses to show – or lack thereof. Miike certainly knows when displaying too much can be a negative aspect of a film, allocating much of the early scenes of violence offscreen before practically going overboard during the film’s final half. And the cinematography of the film is where it hits a high mark in terms of being visually complementing to that of the film’s nightmarish tone. From the jarringly surrealistic and perplexing scenes of Hasumi’s early first taste with murder – all which seem oddly befitting given the fragmented mental landscape of his character – to the film’s closing massacre sequence that paints Hasumi’s barbaric actions as outlandishly comedic given the festive setting in which the rampage commences, the visuals of the film is quite reflective upon the dark recesses in which it explores.
One could view Lesson of the Evil as Miike’s celebratory return to the horror genre, but one could also view the film as Miike simply showing his capability to return to a genre with much more directorial experience under his belt. He has certainly improved upon his craft, as evidenced here, bringing about a psychological study of a man gone horribly awry that easily hints back to some of his earlier, horror-centered works. And while the film may be deemed entirely too gruesome some viewers, Miike still elicits some of his trademark black humor throughout that alleviates some of the film’s more horrifying moments from becoming rather unbearable to watch. While the film’s last half may appear too discordant for its own good, Lesson of the Evil is undeniably one of Miike’s most polished films to date, offering an experience that is as unsettling as it is surprisingly audacious considering the sensitive material it chooses to explore.
Author: Miguel Douglas
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