Evil Does Not Exist


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Evil Does Not Exist
"Hamaguchi isn’t scared to completely change the rhythm of his film on a dime, something that is likely to frustrate as many people as it delights." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

A camera drifts slowly beneath a canopy of wintry trees, accompanied by the orchestral strings of Eiko Ishibashi’s score, inviting us to fall into what we anticipate to be the slow and quiet rhythms of Drive My Car director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s latest film.

That is, for the most part, a good hunch, but the surprise sound of a shotgun ringing out not far into the Venice Silver Bear winner – the distance away of which the two characters who hear it disagree on – is a clue that Hamaguchi may not only be interested in the tranquillity of nature. A children’s game of green light, red light – which sees them race in spurts to a finish line in between standing stock still like statues – also hints at the way things can seem not to be moving at all, only for the shock of change to happen in a heartbeat.

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Hamaguchi, it turns out, also isn’t scared to completely change the rhythm of his film on a dime, something that is likely to frustrate as many people as it delights. You’ll have to wait until the end, however, to discover which camp you fall into.

Originally intended as a short – and bearing some signs of padding as a result – to accompany Ishibashi’s music, this is more a meditation on ideas of community, urbanisation and corporatisation than it is plot-driven, since though there is a narrative framework it unfolds unconventionally.

The woodland is where taciturn widower Takumi (Hitoshi Omika) lives with daughter Hana (Ryo Nishikawa). His days are filled with odd jobs, like wood chopping and collecting spring water from the river for use in the nearby noodle restaurant. Hana, meanwhile, is a free-spirited child, her sunny nature reflected in the sky-blue coat and yellow gloves she sports as she plays in the woodland alone or enjoys learning forays with her dad, learning tree names as she goes.

Hamaguchi lets the elemental nature of the woods pull us in and it’s 10 minutes before a line of dialogue is uttered. Change is potentially on the horizon in the form of a glamping site project which, adding an absurdist air, is being ‘sold’ to the locals at a town meeting not by regular development types, but by a talent agency named Playmode, who have seen the opportunity to cash in on Covid grants from the government, so long as they move quickly.

Playmode’s Takahashi (Ryuji Kosaka) goes on a charm offensive at the meeting alongside his quieter sidekick Mayuzumi (Ayaka Shibutani). But they get more than they bargained for as their septic tank is sized up and found wanting, among other issues. There’s a distilled frisson to this scene that speaks to community strength even as it reveals this is a collection of people who have chosen to live together in this place rather than simply been born there.

Hamaguchi also finds strength in script later when, as Takahashi and Mayuzumi – who prove surprisingly sympathetic to the locals – drive back for a second foray and have the sort of free-ranging back and forth that punctuated Drive My Car. There’s humour in the stubbornness of nature in the face of Takahashi and Mayuzumi’s attempts to ‘befriend’ it, but there’s also an unpredictability that Hamaguchi embraces to offer a surprisingly spiky but resolutely enigmatic conclusion.

Reviewed on: 05 Apr 2024
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A rural village faces disruption from the construction of a glamping site for Tokyo tourists.
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Director: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi

Writer: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi

Starring: Hitoshi Omika, Ayaka Shibutani, Ryûji Kosaka, Rei Nishikawa

Year: 2023

Runtime: 106 minutes

Country: Japan

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