Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s ninth feature film, “Evil Does Not Exist”, gained recognition at the 80th Venice International Film Festival where Hamaguchi received the Silver Lion award and the FIPRESCI Award from the International Federation of Film Critics. The film was also recognized as the “Best Film” at the 67th BFI London Film Festival.
“Il Male Non Esiste” at the Venice International Film Festival.
The story takes place in a remote mountain town in Japan, specifically in the charming village of Harasawa. The close-knit community leads a peaceful life, perfectly balancing the calm rhythms of the forest and the timeless beauty of nature. As we become more familiar with the villagers, we meet Takumi (played by Hitoshi Omika), a skilled handyman, and his daughter, Hana (Ryo Nishikawa). Life in Harasawa is simple and almost idyllic, with the gentle babbling of streams, delicate feathers falling onto untouched snow, the comforting scent of udon noodles from small shops, the soft sounds of wood being carved, and the curious footsteps of a child exploring the magical woods. These are the true essence of existence in this village.
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The peaceful balance of this village is suddenly disrupted when two representatives from a company in Tokyo unexpectedly arrive. Their purpose is to gain the villagers’ approval for a new type of luxury camping called “glamping” that caters to modern tourists. The clash between city life and village life is highlighted in a particularly captivating scene. During a meeting, the residents of Harasawa eloquently and passionately express their concerns about the glamping project, revealing the vulnerability of the capitalist system. However, the conflict is not simply between the village and the corporate world. It becomes clear that the two representatives are merely pawns of a larger, more powerful entity that claims to have the community’s best interests at heart.
The overall performance and directing style can be described as simplistic, lacking complexity and detail. However, the true highlight of this movie lies in its soundtrack, composed by the talented musician Eiko Ishibashi, who also worked on the score for “Drive My Car.” It is important to note that “Evil Does Not Exist” was originally conceived as a musical project before being adapted into a film. In fact, Ishibashi initially asked Hamaguchi to create visual elements to accompany her existing musical compositions, eventually leading to the creation of a full-length film together. The skilled composer expertly creates dramatic and often unsettling soundscapes, adding depth to the otherwise simple visual aesthetics of the scenes.
There were various themes that Hamaguchi could have explored, including eco-criticism, eco-anxiety, Japan’s industrialization, and the malevolence of nature. However, he intentionally chooses to keep everything on a superficial level instead of critically analyzing or addressing these issues. This decision would be less questionable if it weren’t for the unexplained inconsistency in the film’s ending sequence. For most of the film, the tone and style are dry and sober, with a semi-documentary feel in “Evil Does Not Exist.” However, the last ten minutes completely change this established structure.
The suppressed aggression bubbling just below the surface – building up in between moments of quiet – bursts forth in a sudden surge of violence, serving as a reminder of the existence of evil. In my opinion, the problematic aspect of this jarring and unexpected conclusion lies in its exclusive nature. While it is understandable and commendable to avoid creating a didactic film and sidestepping the potential moralism lurking within the “man vs nature” trope, the result is a clear division between those who believe they have grasped the meaning of the work and those who feel excluded. To clarify further: if Hamaguchi’s intention was not to present us with predetermined truths but rather to provoke introspection through a cryptic twist, the outcome is feeble, if not subpar. The contradiction lies precisely in the fact that this piece will be remembered more for the perplexing nature of its final scenes than anything else. My stance may seem contrary to the prevailing sentiment, but there is a concern that after the immense success of “Drive My Car”, Hamaguchi may become entrenched in a particular type of cinema that is so impenetrable and pseudo-authorial as to be ultimately inconsistent. Certainly, to address this Hamlet-esque question, we must closely monitor his future works.
To sum up, Hamaguchi has created a piece that honors independent films, with its mysterious essence at its core. However, this may not be enough on its own.