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LESSON OF THE EVIL is a relentless, remorseless look at pure evil. It is so brutally violent, it numbs you into submission and you are unsure how you should react to it. There is little joy in watching the film (though there is dark, black humour throughout) but it stands as a unique testament to infant terrible director Takashi Miike's crazy view of the world.
The film's first half is almost as restrained as the second is violently eruptive. The setting is an elite private school in Japan where teachers and administrators discuss the prevalent problem of students cheating during exams, mostly using their cell phones. Numerous solutions are proposed but the most radical comes from Seiji Hasumi, the charming, popular English teacher, who suggests body searches and signal jammers, but who's notions are rejected as being counterproductive to keeping the schools environment healthy. Undeterred, Hasumi continues keeping tabs on students and learns of widespread bullying, harassment and illicit teacher student relationships. You think he's going to turn into some kind of saviour, and the films tone seems to be heading this way, but then, and there is no fine way to describe it, Hasumi goes psycho. He explodes into a violent killing machine during a nightly school function, exacting brutal death, wielding a shotgun, pumping bullets into anything that moves and talking to his demons to leave little doubt he is a complete loony.
Knowing a bit about Takashi Miike and the reputation that precedes him, this midway shift should not be surprising (or even considered a spoiler). His films are almost exclusively violent, of that there is no doubt, but they revel in tasteless torture porn that is not for the squeamish. LESSON is no different and if anything, the overlong period of exposition, detailing the tribulation of a small group of students at the school, seems overcooked in contrast to the rushed, extended finale, which is really where Miike displays his skills as filmmaker. Hasumi is molded in the fashion of television's DEXTERa likable serial killer with a wide grin and charismatic looks to match who is also extremely lucky in giving anyone investigating the deaths, a slip. But while the last hour is a lot of fun (at one point Hasumi off's countless students wearing a rain jacket and swaying to the jazzy tune of MACK THE KNIFE) it is indescribable, nearly unwatchable and after sometime, repetitious to the point of being unbearable. And, just when you think there might be some end in sight, Miike turns a moment of hope into a Michael Haneke moment of viewer patience testing ala FUNNY GAMES. If that sounds like your cup of tea, you know you're in for a good time.
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