One of the movies from my Hong Kong flight (and that was a month ago now, so you now have an idea of how far behind with everything I am). On the face of it, this one looked like a kids movie, but I was somewhat taken with the visuals. So onwards to the synopsis.
70% of the Moon has been destroyed. And the creature responsible is on Earth. It’s a 7′ tall yellow squid thing, that can move at Mach 20. And for some reason has decided to give the people of earth a year to stop it. And as you do, it decides to become a teacher in Japan. It takes the name Koro Sensei, and is given the class 3-E – basically the hopeless losers of this school. The rest of the Earth have decided to leave the issue in the hands of the Japanese, and so the class are trained in the art of assassination. Koro Sensei of course is more than a match for the pupils, but he both encourages them to stop him, and manages to teach them a thing or three on the way.
So, if I say this one is based on a popular Manga, you are not going to be too shocked. In fact, this is a bit of a Japanese phenomenon, with an Anime series and appearances in computer games also out there – although as ever I have not read/watched/played any of these. What we do have here though is something that is rather goofy, rather fun and not for kids at all.
At the centre, we have the rather wonderful charater of Koro Sensai, voiced by Kazunari Ninomiya – the CGI is pretty well done, and the character is a nice mix of helpful, arrogant, sometimes angry and occasionally side-splittingly funny (even if the funniest scene is maybe somewhat disturbing when you pay it too much attention – he really shouldn’t be at the female students sleepover).
The human characterisation is fairly standard for this kind of thing. Ryosuke Yamada plays the hero Nagisa Shiota, all a bit nervous and shy, but fundamentally likeable and clearly capable. Karma Akabane (Masaki Suda) is a more typical know-it-all delinquent, but actually not utterly repellent. In Tadaomi Karasuma (Kippei Shiina) we have a stoic yet caring liason between the school and the military. It is exactly the sort of characterisation you tend to get in these school-based Japanese movies, regardless of genre. But all the characters are likeable.
The goofiness of the raw material does also introduce some other elements. The sexy Russian assassin cum English Teacher Irina Jelovic (Kang Ji-Young), doesn’t quite work so well as Koro Sensei (I suspect she has a bigger role in the source material, and is here for fan-service reasons). On the other hand, the Robot Killing Machine STAR is simply wonderful, and works quite brilliantly as a background character (again, go to the slumber party).
The film is a lot of fun. It might be a touch over-long, and to be honest the main story involving a rival teacher/soldier colleague of Karasuma is maybe a little small-time for a film which allegedly has the fate of the world in the balance. Which brings us to the real problem.
The film is basically set up for an already being made sequel. We get some glimpses into the backstory of Koro Sensei, and clearly there are some revelations ahead, not least that would explain just why an alien killing machine has decided to teach some children, and has some kind of death wish. One throwaway line and some flashbacks make is somewhat clear about the motivations, but somehow I felt we didn’t quite get enough.
However, I am certainly going to give this one a Recommended, and I hope the sequel manages to build on the momentum and charm of this initial offering. It won’t win any awards, but somehow it takes something that really shouldn’t work outside of a Manga and makes it (almost) believable.