“Evil Does Not Exist” Review

Going up to the country

Maybe it’s because Santa Fe has become the type of community where outsiders have steadily transformed housing access into one of the city’s most prevalent and heartbreaking issues, but Japanese director/writer Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Evil Does Not Exist hits particularly and painfully close to home.

In the newest from the Drive My Car auteur, residents of the rural Mizubiki Village discover a business conglomerate plans to bring a glamping experience to their sleepy hamlet. This will be good for the village, the suits tell them—more tourism means more money. As material gain is not anyone’s MO in Mizubiki, however, the hypothetical forthcoming tourism boom hits hard for single dad/widower Takumi (Hitoshi Omika, who, it turns out, is not actually a professional actor). He’s raising his daughter (Ryô Nishikawa) to respect the flora and fauna of the land, and the last thing he needs are rich types coming in to play house with little consideration for ecology.

Hamaguchi phases between the relatively subtle and the bone-chillingly overt in his quest for eco-understanding. Thanks to stunning cinematography from Yoshio Kitagawa (Mari’s Story), one almost feels present beneath the looming mountains and towering trees. Beautiful environs or not, like the environmental messaging in Miyazaki films such as Spirited Away or even My Neighbor Totoro, Evil Does Not Exist relies on viewers already understanding at least some of the world’s plight. Like those films, it also requires a healthy bit of empathy.

Accessing compassion comes easily at times, such as during scenes featuring tense community center talk-back sessions (at which villagers voice their concerns about septic tank locations and the importance of spring water for udon) and Takumi’s daughter’s disappearance. Gentler moments in which characters chop wood or consider a deer carcass—or when the camera painstakingly scans across the treetops of the forest from below for what feels like several minutes—require patience.

As parables on morality go, Hamaguchi succeeds in portraying natural splendor and the reasons for its defense. Why we should feel anything for the humans who interact with it, often selfishly, is another matter altogether. Like the fortitude it takes to consistently defend the planet, Evil Does Not Exist requires a certain level of comfort with nebulousness. Hamaguchi, perhaps deliberately, doesn’t provide concrete answers.

If the impact of his film, however, is that it makes viewers think a little more deeply about how they carry themselves? That would clearly be a good thing. This isn’t about finger-wagging; it’s about a moment’s consideration for the type of world we’ll leave behind.


+Beyond beautiful; well-written and timely

-Hard-to-endure slowness at times

Evil Does Not Exist

Directed by Hamaguchi

With Omika and Nishikawa

Center for Contemporary Arts, NR, 106 min.

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