Pages Navigation Menu

"No matter where you go, there you are."


LFF 2023 Review: Evil Does Not Exist is Tantalisingly Obscure

The title Evil Does Not Exist conjures many possibilities – all equally dramatic. Is this a film about religion? An intense thriller? A horror? Not quite. The film defies categorisation, and is even, at times, frustratingly slow and deliberating. This adds to a breathtaking examination of our relationship with nature. In Evil Does Not Exist, the environment is a balm for human suffering, but this comes at a cost. Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi‘s follow-up to the Oscar-nominated Drive My Car might just be a better movie. The director’s work continues to be contemplative; here Evil Does Not Exist focuses on the natural world, although there’s still room to consider the commodification of art. It is also the best film ever made about septic tanks.

Takumi (Hitoshi Omika), a self-professed ‘jack-of-all-trades’, works the land to help his small rural community run smoothly. Steadfast and semi-mute, he works in harmony with the earth, drawing water from a clear brook and chopping wood to heat his eco home. Takumi is so engrossed in woodland life that he repeatedly forgets to pick up daughter Hana (Ryo Nishikawa) from school, so Hana takes to walking home through the woods. Takumi’s desire to remain present in the moment speaks to matters of the heart, and mirrors the community at large. The residents’ balanced life starts to come unstuck when a nameless company begins building a glamping site on nearby land. Two underprepared talent agency workers act as the conduit between the fearful community and a faceless corporation. Their interactions reveal that Takumi, his neighbours and the local wildlife are all healing from trauma. The glamping site is about to open up old wounds.

Check out our London Film Festival coverage

Evil Does Not Exist could easily be a slight tale about eco-consciousness, but Hamaguchi’s knack for character turns it into a more mysterious and magical affair. Most of Takumi’s secrets are never uncovered, but every word he utters is meaningful, as is every shot choice. Hamaguchi rarely blends scenes, instead aggressively cutting between long, peaceful stretches of forestry with boisterous city life. Every discordant cut acts as a crack in thin ice. The villagers and their environment are at great risk from ignorance and corporate greed.

At times Evil Does Not Exist feels like a live-action Studio Ghibli movie: there’s a village elder, a restaurateur cooking delicious noodles and the frequent snap of twigs underfoot. The earth is alive and Omika does great work showing Takumi’s spiritual connection to it. In fact, so much work is done to portray the peacefulness that the film’s conclusion (after a brief 106 minutes) is jarring and confusing. Yet it is all the more richer for these strange changes in tone.

Hamaguchi’s talent is in building relationships, creating a lived-in environment, and educating without ever preaching.  Evil Does Not Exist is a phenomenal piece of art, even though both its name and its message remain tantalisingly obscure.

Previous PostNext Post


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.