On Location: Japan's Serene Nagano Prefecture Stars in ‘Evil Does Not Exist’

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Fictive

It would be easy to read Evil Does Not Exist as being anti-travel—or, at the very least, anti-glamping. The new film from Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi is set in the tranquil (and fictional) village of Mizubiki some two hours outside of Tokyo. Locals live in deference to the nature that surrounds them, collecting water from the forest’s crystal-clear spring with quiet care. But, when COVID-era economic incentives drive a Tokyo consulting firm to erect a glamping site upstream of the village, without considering the environmental consequences on the community, a high-drama town meeting ensues, wherein villagers poke hole after hole in the hastily-drawn plan. Over the course of the film's two hours, it continues to meditate on topics of man and nature, framing stunning countryside scenery for so long, and with such focus, that you emerge refreshed as though from a cold plunge.

We sat down with the director (and his wonderful interpreter, Aiko Masubuchi) to get a grip on Hamaguchi’s Japan, his feelings about responsible tourism and glamping in the real world, and man’s place in nature. Read on to step into the world of the film, which enters limited release May 2.

Evil Does Not Exist is set in a rural part of Japan some two hours outside of Tokyo, where the residents defer to nature.

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Evil Does Not Exist is set in a rural part of Japan some two hours outside of Tokyo, where the residents defer to nature.
Fictive

You conceived of this project after spending time in composer and frequent collaborator Eiko Ishibashi's hometown—what was this creative process like?

Eiko offered me an opportunity to make visuals for her live performance [which is currently screening in New York City]—at that time, I wasn’t sure what I would make. I went to go see her make music in her studio [in the Nagano Prefecture], which is about two hours away from Tokyo by car. There, I saw the same nature that you see in the film and the nature that she makes music in.

When I was there, it was winter. It was quite a cold view. The locals would tell me, “Winter is not the season to experience this place. In spring, summer, and fall, it is really beautiful.” We were seeing these bare branches and a lack of human presence. This matched very well with Ishibashi’s music, where there’s very few senses of life within the landscape except for a bit of falling snow or a little flash of movement from the wind or an animal. There are layers and layers of subtlety in her music.

The film was inspired by Hamaguchi's time in composer Eiko Ishibashi's hometown during the winter, a seasonal landscape thoroughly congruent with Ishibashi's subtle, sparse music.

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The film was inspired by Hamaguchi's time in composer Eiko Ishibashi's hometown during the winter, a seasonal landscape thoroughly congruent with Ishibashi's subtle, sparse music.
Fictive

What is your relationship with Japan’s natural world? Did you grow up in a rural or urban environment?

Because of my parents’ work, we moved around a lot between municipal towns and cities. There’s nature there, but there was not a closeness to nature. In fact, I had barely gone camping myself—perhaps a little in elementary school. My closest relationship to nature was through man made parks in urban environments. It wasn’t until I made this film that I spent much time in nature. My father used to work in the Ministry of Construction, working with a lot of dams. So I will say that, wherever we moved there was always the presence of the river.

One of the characters in this film runs an udon noodle shop, and moved to the village from Tokyo because the quality of the water makes all the difference in the food she prepares. Can you tell me where this idea came from?

It was true that the water in Fujimicho and Haramura really tasted great—if you tried making coffee with the spring water there, it just tasted delicious. I encountered a baker who used this water—he had gone and opened a shop out in Tokyo but realized that his bread tasted entirely different when using water from this place where he was born.

The film's conflict occurs primarily in a single scene: a town meeting wherein two developers (pictured here) show face among locals in a haphazard attempt to garner community support for their plans.

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The film's conflict occurs primarily in a single scene: a town meeting wherein two developers (pictured here) show face among locals in a haphazard attempt to garner community support for their plans.
Fictive

The title, Evil Does Not Exist, alludes to a theme in the film wherein individuals rarely see their own actions as evil—namely the two characters trying to establish the glamping site. Tell me more about this analysis on evil; and why, specifically, you chose glamping as a means of exploring it.

It is true that the number of glamping sites are increasing in Japan, especially as crowded spaces and urban environments became unappealing for leisure during the pandemic. But most urbanites do not know how to camp, and they don’t know how to be in nature. I do believe glamping is a result of that—this “prepared” style of camping that is transplanting urban ideals to nature. I’m about to widen the perspective quite a bit, but the aims of capitalistic activities are to rid people of inconvenience, displeasure, and fear. Glamping is about the desire to get rid of nature’s inconveniences. Glamping in and of itself is a contradictory experience.

Hamaguchi was in particular drawn to the landscape's stillness, interrupted only by intermittent ripples of water, flashes of lights, and movements of snow.

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Hamaguchi was in particular drawn to the landscape's stillness, interrupted only by intermittent ripples of water, flashes of lights, and movements of snow.
Fictive

At the same time, it’s true that these activities bring financial stimulation to local communities. Reception is quite split. I even had the assumption that locals were always going to be against ideas like this in themselves, and I learned that that’s not the case—if they are done well and thoughtfully, something can be arranged. Regarding the town hall that you see in the film, something very similar happened in reality. I just listened to hear what kinds of things were said—that the septic tank needed to be in the middle of the site so as not to pollute the water, which would be unsightly, that campfires would lead to wildfires. The attitudes of the locals were very neutral, these things were just true.

As a filmmaker, I find that the less I know about a place, the more that shows in the film. For this particular film, we had a guide showing us around, a local who Eiko introduced us to. We followed this guide to consider where we could go. Without this person, we would have known nothing—where we can and cannot go, what we can and cannot do. When we first began considering shooting locations, there was an area with spring water that we wanted to use. The locals told us not to shoot there, and we listened. It’s very simple, that it is moral to not go where you’re not supposed to go.

Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler