Director: Eiichiro Hasumi
Writer: Yusei Matsui, Tatsuya Kanazawa
Cast: Ryosuke Yamada, Masaki Suda, Maika Yamamoto, Seika Taketomi, Mio Yuki, Miku Uehara Kanna Hashimoto, Seishiro Kato, Kang Ji-Young, Masanobu Takashima, Kippei Shiina, Kazunari Ninomiya, Wakana Aoi, Mirei Kiritani
Running Time: 110 min.
By Paul Bramhall
There’s a painfully transparent trend being followed by the studios when it comes to mainstream Japanese cinema that’s emerged in recent years, and it’s one that can best be described as follows – 1. Pick any popular sci-fi infused manga series. 2. Adapt series into two movies, shot back-to-back, and release within a few months of each other. 3. Enjoy profit. We’ve already seen the likes of Gantz (2010) and Gantz – Perfect Answer (2011), Parasyte – Part 1 (2014) and Parasyte – Part 2 (2015), and Attack on Titan – Part 1 (2015) and Attack on Titan – Part 2 (2015). While all of the productions listed have their high points, they also all suffer from bloated runtimes, such that they seem to struggle under their own weight to justify why there’s 2 movies instead of 1.
However as long as the audience is there, it seems that the two-parter is here to stay, and with plenty of manga’s to choose from, 2015 saw its third example of this type of production with Assassination Classroom. Apart from already having a pre-determined part two released in 2016, this live-action feature wasn’t the only interpretation of the tale in 2015, with an anime series also released that was met with a positive reception. As for a live adaptation though, Assassination Classroom proves a trickier beast, after all, how do you transfer a story that revolves around a yellow tentacled alien, which has a permanently grinning bulbous yellow ball for a head, that becomes a homeroom teacher?
Needless to say, such a tale would best be handled by a director known for their ability to handle slightly out there cinema. Miike Takashi would be the obvious choice, however he would have been too busy preparing his own sci-fi manga adaptation, with what would become 2016’s Terra Formars. Sono Sion would also have been a welcome choice to handle such a tale, but again he was preoccupied with massacring as many school girls as possible in Tag. So, with the most likely candidates out of the picture, the directorial reigns ended up in the hands of Eiichiro Hasumi. For those not familiar with Hasumi’s filmography, I guess it’s as good a place to start as any by pointing out he directed one of the worse movies I’ve ever seen, in the form of Mozu: The Movie. Worryingly also from 2015. He’s also behind the big budget disaster flick meets Hallmark Channel TV movie Umizaru trilogy. In short, not the obvious choice.
As with almost any manga series I review, let me put the disclaimer out there that I haven’t read any of them, so I’m not familiar with the source material. Therefore this isn’t going to be a review which compares its faithfulness to the source material. However, in any case, it seems that this adaptation didn’t cause the same level of outrage amongst fans of the manga that, say, the live action version of Attack on Titan had, so it most have done something right. Surprisingly, it does a lot right, and knowing Hasumi’s previous track record, I’m inclined to believe that this is due to the sheer outlandishness of the source material, rather than implying that he’s become a great director overnight.
The plot for Assassination Classroom goes something like this. The alien, named by the students as Koro Sensei, has destroyed 70% of the moon. Why, we don’t know, but now he plans to destroy the planet Earth as well, and he’s going to do it in time for summer break. The alien advises the Japanese government that he’d like to give humanity a chance to stop him from wiping out the planet, so requests to be the teacher of the most challenging class in a Japanese high school. Apart from teaching them the standard school subjects, he’ll also be teaching them the methods on how best he can be killed. The government agree, and so the alien is assigned as their teacher, and the class get armed to the teeth with machine guns and daggers, made of a material that’ll only harm the alien, in preparation for putting their learnings into practice.
It’s been a while since I’ve come across a movie with a plot so ludicrous, and the tone fully embraces the madness of it all. From the moment Koro Sensei introduces himself to the class, cheerfully declaring, “I destroyed the moon and I’ll destroy the Earth next March, therefore, I’ll be your homeroom teacher.” To the daily attendance roll calls, that have him speeding around the classroom calling out names, as an endless stream of bullets are unloaded in his direction from the students, all the while remembering to shout “Here!” when their name is called. The relentless energy that the pace maintains, with minimal explanation as to the reasons behind anything that’s happening, make it a frequently hilarious and joyous viewing experience.
Koro Sensei himself of course is 100% CGI, however he’s integrated perfectly into the environment, with his bright yellow smiling head and rubber like tentacles providing an intentionally manga like appearance. The class themselves consist of a set of students that bring plenty of character to proceedings. The main student is played by Ryosuke Yamada, who plays a shy but smart underachiever that carefully observes Koro Sensei, picking up on weaknesses through little details, and spotting the cracks in his seemingly permanent cheerful appearance.
The most memorable characters though are saved for Korean actress Kang Ji-young, a former member of K-pop group Kara, who plays a constantly horny English teacher, who’s actually Russian (apparently defined by her dyed blonde hair), and enjoys wearing as much tight leather as possible. Her frequent attempts to violently kill the alien are a highlight. Another highlight comes in the form of transfer student STAR, or more precisely, Self-Thinking Artillery Robot. STAR basically looks like a computer server stuck at the back of the classroom, with a full length screen at the front were the robot takes on human form, played by Kanna Hashimoto, and interacts with the class. STAR randomly unleashes anything from mini-guns to missiles, usually in the middle of a lesson to maintain the element of surprise, and quickly endears herself to the rest of the class.
Amongst the chaos, we do get a number of small hints as to the origin of Koro Sensei. There are brief flashbacks to a room on fire and a female teacher seemingly trapped in the wreckage, and it becomes clear that he’s also in the room with her. Most tellingly, when he engages with the government agent that agreed to assign him to the class, played by Kipei Shina (recognizable as one of the main characters from Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage), the agent makes an offhand comment around if the situation they’re discussing took place when he “only had two hands and two feet”. All the hints of course are alluding to what will be revealed in the second instalment, but as a standalone movie, the scenes create a welcome sense of curiosity as to where the alien must have come from, and indeed, is he an alien at all?
As much fun as Assassination Classroom was, a sense of foreboding runs through me regarding the second instalment. In normal storytelling logic, the first instalment of a two part tale should set the stage for what’s to come, as well as establishing characters, with the second instalment delivering the thrills and spills that are normally associated with a saga’s conclusion. John Woo’s Red Cliff is a perfect example of this. However in the case of these manga adaptions that we’re seeing, frequently it seems to be the case that all the fun is crammed into the first part, so as to establish the audiences appetite to invest in watching the second, which turns out to be an exposition heavy chore. The Attack on Titan movies are a perfect example of this. I hope in this case that the conclusion proves to be as fun as its predecessor, but until the day comes when I check it out, for now I can say that Assassination Classroom is a lesson that’s well worth attending.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 8/10