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Worlds Collide in “Evil Does Not Exist”

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | September 11th, 2023

Film poster: “Evil Does Not Exist”

Evil Does Not Exist (Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, 2023) 3 out of 4 stars.

Japanese director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi returns to the screen with his first film after the lovely 2021 Drive My Car. And though Evil Does Not Exist never reaches the same cinematic heights as its predecessor, many treasures still await inside this fable of a clash between socioeconomic cultures. The natural world is on the sacrificial block, confronted by commercial forces that brook no compromise, and yet as high as those stakes may be, that’s only part of the story.

The joys of the movie come from the many silences, interrupted by long dialogue-filled scenes that combine pathos and comedy. The former include moments between a father and daughter as they explore the mostly pristine forests of their mountainous corner of Japan; the latter showcase a series of awkward conversations between different groups of characters where the director (also the co-writer) explores the conflicts within the human animal. All of it is punctuated by composer Eiko Ishibashi’s gently evocative score.

Ryo Nishikawa in EVIL DOES NOT EXIST. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

At the center of the tale is Takumi (Hitoshi Omika) and his 8-year-old daughter Hana (Ryo Nishikawa). Evil Does Not Exist opens with an extended sky-facing POV shot which we will come to assume, at its end, has come from Hana as she walks through the woods (Hamaguchi repeats a version of this in the finale). Takumi, the area’s local handyman, is a single father who loves Hana but is also extremely forgetful, leading her to often make her own way home. Fortunately, it’s a safe area. Most of the time.

We soon meet other residents before, finally, we gather in a town hall with two representatives—Takahashi (Ryûji Kosaka) and Mayuzumi (Ayaka Shibutani)—from a Tokyo talent firm looking to set up a new glamping (“glamorous” + “camping”) resort nearby. What starts as a very superficial presentation on the nature of glamping turns into a contentious meeting over the potential damage to the environment from the hastily designed blueprints. The locals are initially polite, but their passion grows as they break down, one by one, the faults in the plan.

l-r: Ryûji Kosaka, Ayaka Shibutani, and Hitoshi Omika in EVIL DOES NOT EXIST. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

At first, Takahashi and Mayuzumi act as any cynical urbanites might in the face of such outrage from rural folks they regard with contempt. But among the attendees is Takumi, along with the village elder, and they and others make compelling points about the projects’ flaws. Despite the serious nature of the discussion, the sequence is also hilarious, thanks to the writing and staging. Though the big boss back home will be disinclined to change much, Takahashi and Mayuzumi are deeply affected, to eventual great consequence.

Hamaguchi here dissects both the evils of capitalist systems and the intricate ways that personal interactions can still matter in a universe where money so often counts more than anything. The Tokyo company wants to move quickly to take advantage of business subsidies with upcoming deadlines, but when Takahashi and Mayuzumi are confronted with the reaction on the ground, they can’t proceed in the same way anymore. Unfortunately for all involved, good intentions without real understanding can still prove harmful.

top-bottom: Hitoshi Omika and Ryo Nishikawa in EVIL DOES NOT EXIST. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

I have some problems with the ending, not because of how tragic it seems to be, but rather because of its contextual development and lack of narrative follow-through from earlier. In spite of my reaction, I still admire a great deal of what comes before. The issues raised are of paramount importance. Evil does exist and lies, intentionally or not, in all of us.

[Evil Does Not Exist just had its North American premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), as part of the Special Presentations Programme.]


Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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