Evil Does Not Exist: Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s haunting eco-parable mesmerises and chills

Evil Does Not Exist
Evil Does Not Exist
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After the success of 2021’s Oscar-nominated Drive My Car, Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi could have capitalised on his new global profile and steered towards the bright lights of Hollywood. He has instead retreated into an unsettling pastoral minimalism with the spooky Evil Does Not Exist – a mesmerising portrait of a small community holding modernity at arm’s length, which starts as a benign depiction of country life before veering in a creepier direction.

Hamaguchi is a meditative director but here his tranquil eye is focused on a jarring parable about the banal wickedness of corporate greed and the extremes to which it can drive seemingly decent people. The film, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Venice, only really gets to the punchline in an unsettling last 15 minutes, at which point Mahugachi reveals that much of what we’ve seen is a sleight of hand. His picture of a wholesome, rustic existence is only part of the story.

He pulls the rug away masterfully. What’s more, he does so without ever breaking the contemplative tone struck from the very first scene, in which an eight-year-old girl wanders through beautiful woodland. She is Hana (Ryo Nishikawa), daughter of Takumi (Hitoshi Omika), a handyman who chops wood and supplies his remote town with fresh river water.

Their peaceful home faces an existential menace in the form of a new glamping camp proposed by a talent agency from Tokyo. Where the locals negotiate life at a gentle amble – reflected in the unhurried shots of the trees and sky above – the newcomers come at it at a foolhardy gallop. They want to get the glamping site up and running without delay to benefit from post-pandemic subsidies.

Those lucrative plans are jeopardised when the agency representatives are rejected by Takumi and his neighbours. The great trick Hamaguchi pulls is to make us empathise with both sides – a decision which underpins the movie’s title and its implicit argument that people are not evil by nature, only through force of circumstance. The townsfolk are aghast at the proposal to install a septic tank on the glamping site, sending run-off into the river. Yet the corporate shills (Ryuji Kosaka and Ayaka Shibutani) are hardly monsters. They bear the inhabitants with no ill will and press their boss to amend his proposals.

For its first hour or so, Evil Does Not Exist could be mistaken for a hazy Valentine to rural Japan. The tranquillity is interrupted only by the distant gunshots of deer hunters in the surrounding forest and by Eiko Ishibashi’s atonal score. However, a twist in the final third casts Takumi in a new light – and sends Evil Does Not Exist on an eerie trajectory. It is a gripping conclusion to a fraught study of a community besieged by the modern world and determined to resist it, whatever the cost.


12A cert, 106 minutes. In cinemas from April 5

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