Directed by: Takashi Miike
Starring: Takayuki Yamada, Howard Harris, Fumi Nikaido, Shota Sometani, Hideaki Ito, Ruth Sundell
After briefly dipping his toes into the waters of respectability with his remake of Hara-Kiri and 13 Assassins, the ever fecund Takashi Miike returns to the more outré, pustule filled cinema with which he made his name. That said, Miike is so prolific, he has probably directed three romantic comedies in the time I have typed this sentence.
In many ways, this resembles Audition in its attempt to wrong foot an audience. Whereas that film posited a somewhat creepy May to December relationship study before exploding into full blown horror, this takes the staple of the high school movie and turns it (or in this case bludgeons, shoots and stabs it) on its head. Miike takes the hoary old cliché of the inspirational teacher, in this case Seiji Hasumi (Ito), a new member of the English faculty who seems beloved by the students and respected by most members of the school board. He may seem too good to be true, but in his efforts to help Miya (Erina Mizuno), a student suffering sexual abuse from a teacher, he may actually be the real deal.
In Miike's hands, nothing is ever truly what it at first seems, Seiji lives in a ramshackle decrepit property and seems to have reinvented himself over the years (strangely reminiscent of deeply odd and short lived Adrian Pasdar TV show Profit), which has roused the suspicions of expectorating teacher Tsurii (Mitsuru Fukikoshi).
Never afraid to push the envelope, the director takes the inflammatory and sensitive topic of high school shootings and turns it into a particularly violent and gruesome black comedy. Such a hot button issue has raised arguments about the insensitivity of such an approach. Criticising art for its approach to real issues is always a thorny issue, particularly when the real issue should be the free availability of guns, rather than how a particular medium has depicted it.
Neither a Michael Moore polemic or an ethereal character study a la Gus van Sant, this is more a nail filled custard pie to the face. Excessive and brutal it may be, but it does go on a bit. With the massacre taking up nearly half of a two hour and 10 minute film, the response is more yawn and bored than shock and awe. The killer dancing and shuffling to Mack the Knife while he offs the student body is fun at first, but gets wearying after a while. Throw in some distracting Cronenbergian dream imagery that makes little narrative sense and you have a film too bloated to be considered an outright success.
The main issue would appear to be Miike's restless need to create new work. A more disciplined filmmaker would have hewn a nifty 90 minute piece of exploitation from the material. Sub plots are raised and dropped with little impact, while students are introduced but not developed enough that you ever truly care once the carnage commences.
Hasumi is the stand out as the charismatic teacher and Fukikoshi gives good hanky coughing as his socially maladroit nemesis. If Miike could slow down to a completely reasonable one film a year then he might reap the rewards his undoubted talent deserves. More Ichii the Killer than Visitor Q, this is lightweight but still enjoyable stuff.
A trailer and a feature length making of, which is informative but a bit sparse; like the feature, it could do with some sharper editing, but should be welcomed as a comprehensive look at the kind of genre material that is rarely afforded this level of respect. Picture quality is generally good. There are some artefacts in some of the darker scenes but nothing too troubling. Audio is uncompressed DTS, so you get to hear all that screaming and gurgling in crystal clarity, which should disturb the neighbours.