Evil Does Not Exist
悪は存在しないDirected by Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Cast: Hitoshi Omika, Ryo Nishikawa, Ryuji Kosaka, Ayaka Shibutani
Grand Jury Prize, 2023 Venice Film Festival
Mizubiki Village is far enough from Tokyo that its residents can enjoy fresh river water and share open spaces with native deer. It’s close enough though that it’s targeted as the site of a new “glamping” development spearheaded by a Tokyo talent agency. Anticipating pushback, the talent agency sends two lackeys to Mizubiki to take questions from locals, who raise serious questions about the site’s environmental impact. At the center of the resistance is the town handyman, the jack-of-all-trades Takumi who becomes their reluctant leader.
On paper, we have a classic showdown between urban and rural, corporation and the common man. As eluded by its enigmatic title though, EVIL DOES NOT EXIST doesn’t see the world in neat binaries. Directed by the incomparable Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Happy Hour, SDAFF ’15; Drive My Car, SDAFF ’21), this is an ecological drama whose stakes are primarily human in all of its mesmerizing opacity, where motivations are as indecipherable as the silence of trees. But Hamaguchi is never nostalgic. Hamaguchi brings us into Takumi’s life of log cutting and teaching his 8-year-old daughter about nature, less to romanticize an idyllic existence than to inhabit psychological shades of grey in a sea of wintry white. Once we dispense with romance and evil, we’re unmoored from moral judgments and economic explanations, and left only with the landmines planted just beneath the snow.
– Brian Hu