“Without wishing to use the word ‘gratuitous’ too gratuitously, in and around the twentieth time a version of ‘Mack the Knife’ plays over footage of a Japanese schoolchild being splatted against a wall by a shotgun blast, the adjective becomes pretty hard to avoid,” finds Jessica Kiang, writing for the Playlist. “Takeshi Miike, a director famed for violent excess in oft-banned films such as Ichi the Killer and Audition, showed a more accessible side to his work, if not necessarily one with a lower body count, in 2010’s entertainingly gonzo samurai picture 13 Assassins. A highlight of his recent output (we were less enamored of his oddball Ace Attorney and dull Hara Kiri), it’s hard not to see his latest, which boasts the seemingly google-translated English title Lesson of the Evil, as a regressive move.”
“Set once again in a rich kids’ prep school like his madcap For Love’s Sake (released earlier this year), this entry is played much straighter, even sedately for the first hour, before the director unleashes non-stop mayhem that should hook young fans thirsty for bloodshed in the classroom,” writes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter.
“An adaptation of Yusuke Kishi‘s bestselling novel Aku no Kyoten, Lesson of the Evil will be remembered largely for its admittedly compelling ‘fish-in-a-barrel’ school massacre sequence, which gives both the audience and the sleepwalking director an invigorating slap in the face,” writes Screen‘s Lee Marshall. “But as a horror film, the prolific Japanese director’s third film so far this year is undone by a fatal lack of suspense and the sheer haste with which script and package were clearly assembled…. And although the transformation of Nippon film and TV heartthrob Hideaki Ito (Princess Blade, Sukiyaki Western Django) into a psychopathic killer is not entirely convincing, it will be sure to generate a certain media buzz.”
“In adapting the two-part, thousand-page novel into a single feature, Miike has clearly had to throw out an enormous amount of detail,” writes Derek Elley at Film Biz Asia. “Most of the students end up on the screen with little or no individual personality, even when played by the likes of [Fumi Nikaido] and [Shota Sometani] (the duo in [Sion Sono’s] Himizu) or [Kento Hayashi] (Arakawa Under the Bridge). As a result, they’re pretty much just cannon-fodder, especially in the final 40 minutes; but that doesn’t detract from Miike’s approach to the subject matter. There’s a sense that he’s playing as much with readers of the novel (who already know the plot and characters) as with viewers of the film (who’ve probably seen plenty of student-massacre movies), by perpetually shifting expectations.”
“A Miike-produced four-part miniseries titled Lesson of the Evil: Prologue began airing mid-October,” notes Variety‘s Jay Weissberg. “Apparently the smallscreen storyline provides background, though enough is provided in the movie, which ends with a ‘To be continued’ note, suggesting there’s plenty more material to play with.” He’s not looking forward to the sequels, though: “Even were the memory of the Breivik massacre, among others, not so fresh, there’s something deeply unseemly about turning a high-school bloodbath into an adrenaline-pumping pleasure ride.”