Evil Does not Exist (2023) Silver Lion | Venice Film Festival 2023

September 9th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir/Wri: Ryusuke Hamaguchi | Cast: Hitoshi Omika, Ryo Nishikawa, Ryuji Kosaka, and Ayaka Shibutani | Japan Drama 115′

Japanese auteur Ryusuke Hamaguchi comes to Venice Film Festival this year with another weirdly serene thriller spiked by a steely sense of humour.

Evil Does not Exist – his first feature since winning the best international film Oscar with Drive My Car last year – follows Takumi and his little daughter Hana, who live in the remote village of Mizubiki,  fairly close to Tokyo but miles from the hubbub of the big city, where they enjoy a modest existence according to the seasons, like generations before them.

An extended opening sequence luxuriates in the peacefulness of this bosky location where Takumi is seen rhythmically chopping firewood and scooping crystal clear stream water into bottles. Mizubiki is a natural habitat for Siberian Ginseng and Wasabi leaves that Takumi and his brother pick to use in their cooking. And on her way back from school through the woods – often unaccompanied – Hana loves watching the deer grazing in the bracken. She has learnt all the names of the native trees and how to identify them.

But this rural idyll comes under threat when the villagers are invited to hear about a local glamping site being planned by a start-up financier from Tokyo. This ‘holiday village’ offers city residents a comfortable “escape” to nature. But when two representatives of the glamping company arrive in the village to hold a meeting, it soon becomes clear that the project will have a negative impact on the water supply, endangering the ecological balance of the area and the local people’s way of life. These moral, ethical and ecological concerns are teased out in Hamaguchi’s richly insightful narrative that could easily provide material for several other features.

The Q&A session takes place calmly and without conflict between the reps and the villagers, and there’s a great deal of dark humour at play in the arguments and counterclaims that helps to mollify what could have been a hostile confrontation. The ill-prepared reps – provided by a talent agency – soon have to admit their total ignorance of the nearly countryside, and also their lack of knowledge of basic ecology, and the locals quietly put them to shame. But the meeting has an even more profound affect on Takumi and little Hana, the ripples of which gently play out in the film’s tense and quietly devastating finale. MT




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