With ‘Ichi The Killer’ still sat on my DVD shelf, my second viewing experience of notorious director Takashi Miike (after Audition) was screened as part of the Film4 Frightfest throughout late August. Lesson of the Evil (Aku no Kyōten) was confusing and violent, but I can’t say I expected anything else.
An English teacher at a school, Hasumi, played expertly by Hideaki Ito, is the teacher everyone wants. He stands out like that one good teacher you had at school, the one who made you think education was actually worthwhile, and most likely shaped the future of your adult life simply by existing in a way opposite to those didn’t want to be there. Engaging, sympathetic and seemingly pragmatic; his lessons are the only ones the kids pay attention in.
Despite the number of students he teaches at the school, some end up gaining more focus due to having some sort of involvement with Hasumi. A young girl called Miya (Erina Mizuno) is on the receiving end of sexual abuse from one of the teachers, and on the flip-side of that another student, Masahiko (Kento Hayashi) is having a consensual homosexual relationship with his art teacher. The younger actors and actresses, as I have seen consistently within Asian cinema, are believable and intriguing to watch. The two listed are the standout performances from the students, but they are two picks from a fine supporting cast who all deserve considerable credit.
Hasumi, willing to help the students, but is hiding something though. He has a dark secret; a sociopathic, violent and unnerving secret leading back to his childhood. To compound this unpredictable mystery even further, the school he previously taught at had experienced a stream of suicides, unrelated to Hasumi, just a weird coincidence that he happened to be teaching there at the time.
Psychologically, it begins to show that Hasumi is a mess. He has flashbacks to his past that morph into present day visions, with talking shotguns and a skinless, horrendously burned individual from his past appearing before his very eyes. Hasumi behaves the way he does, in order to suppress, and essentially appease these psychological demons.
Fans of the genre will be left happy with what takes place, but those unfamiliar with his work could be a little sickened and possibly bored at the sheer amount of bloodshed. Much like Audition, it is the final third where Takashi Miike ramps up the gore, as all these stories, visions and secrets come to a gruesome ending. The film looked and sounded brilliant, the cast were fantastic and especially Hidaeki Ito who clearly enjoyed the role of Hasumi – some may say a little too much. The scariest part in all this was just how normal, casual and nonchalant the entire final act is carried out.
What started out as a psychological thriller, switched speeds and resulted in an ever increasing body count. However, the film at this point had dragged out considerably long (plus ad breaks), and the conclusion wasn’t entirely worth the wait for the passive fan such as myself. You can’t fault Miike for trying to add depth and meaning to the mass violence that takes place in the end, even if it was not the easiest story to follow, but there was still something incredibly, dare I say it, fun… about this movie.