Film Review: Evil Does Not Exist | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, December 2nd, 2023  

Evil Does Not Exist

Studio: Sideshow/Janus Films
Ryûsuke Hamaguchi

Oct 05, 2023 Web Exclusive
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Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Evil Does Not Exist is an excellent, profound examination of our unchanging roles in the world, depending on our social class, location and moral values.

Set in rural Japan, the film centers around Takumi (Hitoshi Omika), an odd-jobs man and single father of eight-year-old Hana (Ryo Nishikawa). Takumi gets by through his daily routine–chopping firewood for heating, collecting freshwater from the local stream and forgetting (without fail) to pick Hana up from school. The town they live in is small-knit, where everyone not only knows everyone but is friends with one another. The citizens are also deeply connected with the nature around them–whether that means hunting deer, collecting fresh wasabi or walking through the endless sea of trees.

Things quickly change when two representatives from Tokyo come to the town, announcing their plans to install and launch a “glamping” site for city tourists. At the first town hall meeting, the townsfolk have their reservations, understandably. The project’s lack of credibility and its logistical elements, such as the proposed placement of the septic tank next to the freshwater stream, threaten to spoil the townspeople’s lives and resources. Led by Takumi, the residents challenge the project representatives, leading to a muted yet fierce battle between the urban and rural populations. From here, the story becomes more nuanced and complicated as the project representatives decide to immerse themselves in the town to understand where Takumi and his compatriots are coming from.

Evil Does Not Exist is a slow-burning film. Hamaguchi limits the film’s editing. Instead, he often features prolonged sequences of characters attending to their daily lives, particularly during the film’s opening act. Sequences of Takumi chopping wood span minutes–enough time for him to saw the tree trunk, axe the individual pieces and wheel them over to his house. Shots of Takumi and Hana walking through the woods are captured, with smooth camera movement, for just as long. Even so, the film is tantalizing from its opening scene, aided by precise direction and an incredible Eiko Ishibashi score. This might be the fastest-moving slow-burning film of all time, simply because Hamaguchi is so in command of his camera that he leaves no space for truly empty moments. Every shot has a purpose, to be addressed at that moment or later in the film.

Hamaguchi’s screenplay relies on different forms of dialogue to augment tension. At the film’s beginning, simple comments successfully set up the townspeople’s friendly, habitual relationships with one another. During the town hall sequence, the dialogue is fiery, with no pauses for rest or rumination on the film’s ideas. By balancing areas of silence and heavy dialogue, Hamaguchi slowly increases the stakes, making viewers sink as tensions may or may not reach the point of no return. This dynamic is where most of the film thrives–the vast expanse of narrative possibilities. We don’t know what will happen, and because of the script’s lack of detail, we can never guess. As such, the film peels its story like an onion, revealing each new layer in a precise, intriguing fashion.

The various ideas and techniques at play culminate in an ending that many may find controversial or abrupt. The finale, however unexpected, is the ultimate culmination of the film’s themes. At its core, Evil Does Not Exist is a story of the divide between people of different social, political and moral backgrounds, and the problems that arise when two sides don’t understand, and never will understand, one another. If evil doesn’t exist, it’s because we’ve all convinced ourselves that we’re doing the right thing, a false comfort that allows us to keep acting the way we do without having a desire or seeing a reason to change our actions. In this cycle, there are no winners; we all lose. (

Author rating: 8/10

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