Seiji Hasumi (Hideaki Itô) is the new teacher in school, and he seems just about perfect, good with the pupils, amiable around the staff, and with some excellent ideas for shaking up any plans among the students for cheating in examinations, which has been a problem recently. His big idea is to introduce a jamming signal that blocks the devices while the tests are being held; the headmaster wonders if this is at all legal, but admits it sounds like a pretty good method of reining in the ne'erdowells. However, one of the teachers, the science master Mr Tsurii (Mitsuru Fukikoshi, who could in theory implement this, has reservations – not only about the jamming, but about Mr Hasumi as well...
Could he be too good to be true? As we see, that’s a very possible state of affairs in Japanese master of transgressive cinema Takashi Miike's extreme thriller, not that it begins that way though it did build to a last act of deadening, explosive violence seemingly geared to put the audience off their vicarious enjoyment of action movies where the lone hero shoots his way out of trouble – or into it. Mr Hasumi appears to be such hero material when the film starts, handsome and charming, but then cracks in his façade begin to show until they have caused his whole nice guy persona to not so much crumble as be utterly demolished and lie in bloody ruins around the school.
Miike penned the screenplay, and it was identifiably in his style of using bloodshed to make his points, which this time around appeared to be a massive dig at Hollywood-style action flicks. Hasumi, as we discover in flashbacks, has been educated across the Pacific before he returned to Japan, and this has warped his mind in that when he seems too good to be true it means he really is, he's not good at all. The first part is like a high school drama as we suspect he is keeping the pupils in check with subtle means, but then when a girl, Miya (Erina Mizuno), develops a crush on him he doesn’t spurn her advances, in actual fact he does the opposite and has an affair with her instead – not the behaviour of a responsible adult.
Mr Tsurii, not the most socially adept of men, is onto him, however, and has been investigating this "perfect" tutor, finding mysterious gaps in his personal history that indicate something is up, but can he amass enough evidence to rumble him? Meanwhile, one of the students, Keisuke (Shôta Sometani), has his suspicions in addition to Mr Tsurii's, and is conducting his own enquiry, yet as everyone else cannot see an issue with Hasumi they are fighting an uphill battle. Initially, with the cheating going on Lesson of the Evil came across as if it would pose the teenagers as the villains, and be one of those Class of 1984-style thrillers where the poor, put upon teachers were forced to fight back, but it wasn't like that at all, as it gradually grew clearer the opposite was happening, not some exploitative social commentary at all.
It was more a cultural commentary on the entertainment impulse to be amused by watching violent mayhem, and when the bloodletting arrived, it wasn't some slasher movie set up where the killer was creative with his kills, perversely Miike simply gave him a shotgun and a seemingly inexhaustible amount of shells and had him repetitively blow people away. This takes up at least half an hour of the story, if not more, simply the bad guy stalking around the school and opening fire as the bodies are sent flying, as if the director wished to confront us on what we found diverting. This could have been snide to say the least, yet given we had a deadpan approach to deal with, not to mention the oddities Miike threw in to mess with our heads such as the shotgun turning into burnt flesh with one solitary eye rolling in the middle as it speaks to and encourages the murderer, the effect was curiously thoughtful, the succession of brutal scenes offering us plenty of time to have a long, hard look at ourselves. The jokey, cliffhanger ending was merely another part of what was wilfully awkward in its refusal to play the game. Music by Kôji Endô (plus Mack the Knife, often).
Japan’s most controversial director, notorious for his dauntingly prolific output and willingness to push the boundaries of taste. Miike started working as an assistant director in the late 80s, before moving into making straight-to-video thrillers in 1991. He made his feature debut in 1995 with the violent cop thriller Shinjuku Triad Society, and since then has averaged around seven films year.