Aku no Kyôten, aka Lesson of Evil, is a pure Takashi Miike film. If you have seen more of Miike, you kind of know what to expect but the man does jump from genre to genre. But whether it’s shocking his audience with stomach-turning twists like in Audition; making a musical like For Love’s Sake; or filling the screen with cute Ninja kids in the child-friendly Ninja Kids!!!: Miike mostly knows how to make it work. With Lesson of Evil, Miike reaches back to his roots that made him famous worldwide: a mixture of gore and suspense.
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We meet popular English teacher Seiji Hasumi, (portrayed by Hideaki Ito, famous for the Umizaru films) who seems to be the perfect teacher. He can teach well, is friendly and helps his students with their problems. But as you can already expect in a movie with a title like Lesson of Evil, he is in fact not who he appears to be. In order to keep his past hidden, but also to satisfy his twisted needs, he goes to extreme lengths.
The film relies heavily on its lead actor, and Ito portrays his character well. It is certainly a fresh way to see the actor if you are used to his portrayal of the heroic Daisuke Senzaki in the Umizaru films, like I am. You can’t help but like his character as the movie starts, but as the story progresses, that safe feeling slowly changes and makes you want to run away from him as fast as you can. He shows his range as an actor and is able to switch between highly likeable and just fantastically creepy very well. Thanks to this strong lead and Miike’s smooth directing, Lesson of Evil has become a nice atmospheric thriller with some gore sprinkeled on top.
The film builds its suspense up well, exploring its main characters before exploding into a bloody climax that is hardcore, violent and pure Miike. This inevitable finale will please the traditional gore fan but I personally grew a bit tired of the splattering blood after a while. It goes on a bit too long, but it has to be said, leave it to Miike to throw it all in your face with stylish action and colorful atmospheric visuals. No matter how uncomfortable I might have felt sometimes, I just couldn’t switch it off and kept on watching. The film does have the nessecary (dark/ absurd) humor throughout, but mostly the story keeps its darkish atmosphere. Next to Ito, the other cast of the film all act fine and it isn’t hard to sympathise with the students who have no idea what their favorite teacher hides in the depths of his twisted mind.
Miike is a hard-working man and has made an astonishing amount of films during the last fifteen years. This sometimes makes some of his films feel like a smaller “inbetweener” compared to his other bigger productions that are mostly released in the same period. Lesson of Evil is surely one of the bigger films in the director’s repertoire. It is a lush production displaying Miike’s movie making skills, and will probably please fans of his earlier works before making lighter films like the above mentioned musical and children’s movie.
All in all, Lesson of Evil is an interesting film that may not be for everyone, but is a bit more mainstream than Miike’s earlier gore spectacles. So if you are in the mood for a dark Japanese film that has quite a few “what the-” moments, Lesson of Evil might just be the film for you.