Evil Does Not Exist
(dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
By: Adam Freed
In his follow up to the internationally acclaimed and Academy Award nominated Drive My Car, Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi presents the cold indifference of mother nature in Evil Does Not Exist. Hamaguchi rewards viewers open to being led into the winter woods, where his methodical pace layers depth into a story that may feel remote to the impatient.
The deeply naturalistic film shines its light on the rural mountain community of Mizubiki Village, only hours outside Tokyo, but lightyears apart regarding way of life. Local custom prioritizes a healthy respect and mutually beneficial relationship with the natural world. Still waters literally run deep, and provide Mizubiki cohabitants sustenance and their lifeblood. This harmony inevitably comes into conflict when a profit seeking investment group unveils plans to drive a “glamping” community stake into the heart of the village’s pastoral bliss. Woven into this central conflict is the historic question as to what is owed to mother nature, and what is to be expected in return.
Hamaguchi wields a keen eye for flaunting visual convention with an impressive array of camera techniques that rather than communicate flash, echo the film's quest for gorgeous simplicity. The director’s flair for the visually distinct never reads as an attempt to upstage the film's perfect surroundings. At its peak, this pensive thought provoking naturalist delight is a reminder of mother nature's propensity to defend herself against those who may eye her exploitation.
For those willing to remain invested beyond a methodically paced first act, the reward is in witnessing the intoxicating joys in nature's simplicity as they reclaim the minds and hearts of mankind. Evil Does Not Exist is akin to a film that a 21st century Henry David Thoreau would direct. Unlike Thoreau’s eventual abandonment of Walden Pond, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film culminates with a daring question, and the clear planting of a foreboding flag.
Evil Does Not Exist was screened in conjunction with coverage of the 59th Chicago International Film Festival.
Target Score: 7/10 - With a naturalist's eye Hamguchi’s film coincides with, but never invades nature. The daring Japanese director poses what may be the most significant question facing the planetary stare down between nature and mankind.