Studio: Toho Company
Director: Eiichiro Hasumi
Writer: Tatsuya Kanazawa, Yusei Matsui
Producer: Juichi Uehara
Stars: Ryosuke Yamada, Kippei Shina, Jiyoung Kang, Masaki Suda, Seishiro Kato, Kanna Hashimoto, Masanobu Takashima
A sentient squid creature becomes a schoolteacher and threatens to destroy Earth unless his students figure out how to kill him.
What’s next on the destruction agenda for a sentient squid creature appearing from nowhere to tear a hole in the moon? Obliterating Earth, of course. But being virtually indestructible, that would be too easy for this pleasantly-smiling yellow monster with the face of The Comedian’s “Watchmen” button. So he makes an arrangement with Japan’s Ministry of Defense to become a schoolteacher in the meantime. In addition to their regular curriculum, he’ll instruct his students to become top-tier assassins focused specifically on his possible weaknesses. If they can figure out how to murder him before the school year is up, the planet is saved and the killer kids will be awarded 10 billion yen. If they fail…
There’s just one problem. Well, one problem aside from assassination-foiling abilities like respawning tentacles, kid-sized clones, and moving at Mach 20. Korosensei is the best teacher the misfit young teens of Class 3-E have ever had.
Whether that premise sounds sublime or just silly determines how hip you’ll be to the wonderfully warped weirdness of “Assassination Classroom.” Unsurprisingly, since it spawned from a Japanese manga that in turn inspired an anime adaptation, this live-action film version of Yusei Matsui’s popular comic is fit to burst with childlike style bearing adult appeal reminiscent of the maverick mirth and mayhem from a classic Saturday morning cartoon block.
“Assassination Classroom” could only have come from the Land of the Rising Sun, where an Eastern pop culture sensibility creates an entertainment experience for Westerners that is best described as outrageously oddball. Despite students being armed with guns and knives harmless to humans and only effective against korosensei, children wielding weapons in the classroom brings less comical connotations on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, where gun tragedies on school campuses is a gravely serious issue. I’d be surprised if an American studio would come within a million miles of an English-language remake for this reason, though “Assassination Classroom” is infused with enough imagination, humor, and heart for its violence to maintain a tone of endearing playfulness instead of being bleakly inappropriate.
A problem it actually has is a hole in the script as big as the one korosensei puts in the moon. Much of the movie is structured as a series of vignettes, perhaps mirroring the chapter format of its source material. Act one rolls through a series of character introductions starring a suspended bully, an artificial intelligence installed as a transfer student, even a Japanese Jonathan Taylor Thomas dressed like a Final Fantasy villain squaring off in tentacle combat against korosensei. Yet for all the time spent populating 3-E with personality, “Assassination Classroom” comes up short in developing individual children any further beyond their initial roll call.
Subplots include the usual suspects of junior high soap storylines like an unrequited crush on an out-of-this-league dream girl, difficulty fitting in as the new kid, and father’s firm hand at home. Don’t expect fully fleshed resolutions for any of these themes, however. Those brief father flashbacks feature the film’s only parental appearances. And for as many times as the spotlight swings in the direction of various students, you’ll have a hard time feeling like any one of them is more than a skeleton of a “what could have been” opportunity to tell a meaningful side story.
Maybe “Assassination Classroom” doesn’t want its heartfelt sentimentality to become sappy by focusing on such ordinary woes. Instead, korosensei stands proudly at the center throughout, and it’s hard to wag a finger at the movie for choosing not to sling rocks with the supporting humans when it has a Death Star-sized cannon of characterization in the otherworldly teacher. Korosensei is so delightfully fascinating that fading everyone else into forgetfulness becomes a forgivable fault from which the film’s fun factor swiftly recovers.
Fresh, funny, irreverent, intelligent, sarcastic, sly, this sentence does not have the space to include all the adjectives fit to describe the gamut “Assassination Classroom” runs. From korosensei’s infectious signature laugh, which you are guaranteed to attempt imitating at least once, to the film’s relentlessly energetic spirit, the unique concept fueling “Assassination Classroom” makes for endlessly appealing eccentric entertainment.
NOTE: The film’s Japanese title is “Ansatsu kyoshitsu.”
Review Score: 85