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Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Cinematic Harmony: ‘Evil Does Not Exist’ | Review

Set against Japan's picturesque Mizubiki, Ryusuke Hamaguchi's film 'Evil Does Not Exist' blends rural tranquility and urban turmoil
Evil Does Not Exist (2023)

In the small village of Mizubiki near Tokyo, an unscrupulous company plans to build a luxury camping site, potentially disrupting the ecological balance of the area. The opposition includes Takumi, a single father, and his daughter Hana, who cherish a life in perfect harmony with nature. However, they face an unexpected situation that will forever alter the fate of everyone involved.

by Alberto Libera

Ryusuke Hamaguchi‘s films have always thrived on dialectical polarizations: city versus countryside, silence against speech, reality and fiction, destiny and chance, outskirts and urban centers, loss and redemption, proximity and distance. Movement often acts as either a mediator or a catalyst in these seemingly irreconcilable contrasts, whether it’s an escape, a journey, or a trek through the woods, as seen in Evil Does Not Exist.

Set in a rural village not far from Tokyo, the film follows Takumi, a widowed and reticent jack-of-all-trades, who lives with his young daughter Hana. They perform tasks vital to their community, like chopping wood and drawing water from a stream that sustains both wildlife and local activities. This rural ecosystem, barely touched by civilization’s intrusion, operates on natural cycles, where man’s dominion over nature is replaced by a not always harmonious coexistence (evident in the threat of floods and deer hunting). However, this balance is threatened when the fashion and entertainment agency Pyramid, in a bid to tackle the economic crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, buys land to build a glamping resort, potentially disrupting the area’s water balance with a septic tank. The villagers’ protests seem futile against the company’s representatives.

Hamaguchi, also the screenwriter, crafted the film inspired by songs from singer-songwriter Eiko Ishibashi (with whom he collaborated on Drive My Car). The narrative transforms into an ideal musical score, breaking into extended sequences that capture the cyclical and abstract temporality of the setting, interrupted by the sudden intrusion of metropolitan capitalist logic (based on consensus decision-making, as seen in Pyramid’s Tokyo meeting), alien to the local small-scale economy.

The focus then shifts to the confrontation between the gruff Takumi, embodying a culture caught between mystical respect for the elements and a strong sense of community, and haunted by the specters of death and violence, and Pyramid’s employees, who attempt to establish a dialogue with their urban-bourgeois world. This clash, despite attempts at listening and verbal exchange (in the film, as often in Hamaguchi’s work, words are overshadowed by silence), triggers the tragedy that turns the film’s final minutes into a somber elegy.

Hamaguchi’s greatness as a director could be attributed to his ability to contrast the silent language of things (echoing the late Angelo Guglielmi‘s thoughts on neorealist cinema) with the inconclusive verbosity of men, to plant dreamlike clues and death signals in a single frame (the deer carcass, dripping blood from branches), and to change tones and rhythms as if his language were akin to the sudden accelerations and exhausting dilations of music. Even though Evil Does Not Exist may not reach the completeness of his masterpieces (Happy Hour, Drive My Car), it possesses the same ability to navigate anthropology and metaphysics with an intangible lightness.

Cineforum, December 5, 2023

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