You have to take your hat off to prolific director Takashi Miike, if there has ever been an Eastern modern day filmmaker that has managed to cross over to international mainstream audiences, without compromise or restraint, it is this man. Miike as a director is unrelenting, his catalogue racking up an impressive number of films in his relatively short career- at just 53 years of age he has already amassed 94 directorial credits to his name going on IMDb alone- including TV work, and film that covers the gambit of genres. Following in the footsteps of Japanese avant-garde contemporaries such as Seijun Suzuki, Miike demonstrates there is nothing he can turn his hand to that doesn’t make an impression in one way or another- like Suzuki, Miike continuously pushes the limitations of genre confines in a way that challenges conventional filmmaking. This is a director who has a voice and is not afraid to use it. Miike hit mainstream acclaim in the West among horror fans with his visceral entry into the Masters of Horror series- with his contribution Imprint (2007). Prior to this, the director was building a core fanbase in English speaking domains with his genre defining cult hits. 2001’s Ichi the Killer- a darkly comic avant garde celebration of sex and violence that redefined the domain of splatstick- was a film that helped to inspire a new age of Japanese filmmakers such as Noboru Iguchi and Yoshihiro Nishimura to follow suit. The ominous and bleakly horrific Audition shocked and stunned Western audiences back in 1999. While the director’s OTT wild renderings that came in the form of zombie musicals like The Happiness of the Katakuris (2002), or his cynically satirical stab at Japanese society in the fetishised lactation-fest, (wrapped up in violence, necrophilia, incest and abuse)- Visitor Q (2001), carved out a reputation for the director as someone who was not afraid to take that bar and push it further than it has gone before.
There is one thing that is certain, no matter what subject the director is tackling, -be it comedy, westerns, horror, traditional yakuza tales, even children’s films-, Miike is a director who trades in the excesses of human nature. In the process crafting out cartoonish characters that stay with you for a long time after viewing. In a catalogue so far reaching, and not to mention diverse, he doesn’t always hit the heady highs of his cult hits, but the depth to be found in the often warped character studies he brings to life on the screen, always ensure if Miike has another film on the cards, it is going to be worth taking the effort to check out.
Lesson of Evil (which has dropped the ‘the’ for its British blu-ray debut) is one of those highs fans of the director consistently crave. I saw this film earlier in the year, and it still remains the most outstanding release I have seen so far, by miles, for 2014. This is Miike on top form, as he slathers on style and charm mixed with outlandish violence to make a striking statement in a film that is bound to sit alongside his other fan favourites in years to come. It would be easy to get carried away and give full spoilers on this one- in an attempt to convey all the wonderfully juicy bits- however I feel that would be doing first time viewers a complete injustice. The plot can be viewed in two distinctly separate halves, starting off with a slow building approach before bursting into a brilliant ball of flames; part of the pleasure to be found in Lesson of Evil is waiting for the story to come alight. This certainly takes some patience, the tale beginning- like the calm before the storm- with the arrival of a new teacher Seiji Hasumi at a Japanese High School. Kids are cheating on their exams; a teacher is forcing young female students to have sex with him, and a gay teacher is having an affair with a male student. Newcomer Hasumi takes it upon himself to sort out some of the problems for the school and the students, relaxing comfortably into his new role. Meanwhile, an enraged parent complains about bullying in the school, someone dies in a mysterious fire, and kids start to vanish without a trace. Lesson of Evil might take a while to get to the punchline but when it does it hits you full force like a hammer to the face. The film debauches in highly stylised violence, in a way that only Asian film can, producing an onslaught so brutal in its second act, the result is something unforgettable, uncompromising, and electrifying in its delivery and approach. Just when you are getting to the point of thinking, ‘where is this all going?’ , everything suddenly makes sense. Lesson of Evil never dares to show its hand too early, meaning that when it finally blows, it does so in true inimitable Miike style. On this basis Lesson of Evil is very much like Audition, leaving, this viewer at least, completely awestruck in the comprehension of what I had just witnessed. Consequent viewings are enhanced by knowing what is going to happen, and spotting all the little subtle clues along the way in this extremely intricate and clever plot line (adapted from the novel Aku no Kyōten by Yusuke Kishi). As such Miike demonstrates violence, not as a sensational aspect, nor means to disgust, but as an art form first and foremost.
It has to be said the cast are uniformly brilliant, with central star Hideaki Ito (who also appears in Miike’s bonkers Sukiyaki Western Django (2007) as teacher Seiji Hasumi, holding a dramatic, and enigmatic screen persona- with all supporting cast members playing their roles in perfect unison. Characters are imbibed with facets that cover the spectrum of the darker human nature- selfishness, lust, vanity, cowardice, – right up to a flavoursome portrayal of a fractured psyche carried by a full blown sociopath. Again giving away the details is giving too much away, so I will leave it there, and just say, as much of the director’s work, characters here demonstrate a depth and quality so lacking in many likeminded features. Even minor characters carry quirks and facets that lend the picture the quality of providing dense characterisations in its delivery. That is not to say it is all doom and gloom, because for every shadowy aspect to be found here there are also those wonderful elements such as courage in the face of adversity to discover too. Miike also demonstrates his wickedly dark sense of humour in the scripting, and the repeated use of reoccurring theme tune ‘Mack the Knife’ adds in a little bit of his typical tongue in cheek flair.
This release, courtesy of Third Window Films, will hit the UK on the 29th September 2014 (surprisingly fully uncut, given some of the subject matter) on both blu-ray and DVD release. The first 1,000 copies will feature a special glossy cardboard slipcase cover. The release comes with an entertaining 2 hour long making of documentary (which comes in the form of a subtitled on-set video diary documenting the shooting of the main feature) and trailer exclusive to the UK. This release is in its original Japanese language with optional English subtitles.
Totally recommended by us at The Gore Splattered Corner, this is one release to put on your radar for this year. Completely uncompromising, highly entertaining, Takashi Miike is back on top form, and that is something seriously worth celebrating.