Evil Does Not Exist (2023) (Aku Wa Sonzai Shinai)

Evil Does Not Exist by Palme-d’or-winning director Ryu Hamaguchi is a sensitive, mesmeric ecological fable.


by Alexa Dalby

Evil Does Not Exist

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Takumi (Hitoshi Omika) and his daughter Hana (Ryo Nishikawa) live in Mizubiki, a village close to Tokyo with 6,000 inhabitants. Like generations before them, they live a modest life according to the cycles and order of nature. Takumi is the village odd-job man, loves and respects nature, and enchantingly teaches 8-year-old Hana the names of the trees in the forest as he piggybacks her home from school. Surprisingly, Omika is not an actor but was a crew member on Hamaguchi’s Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.

We see long-lasting shots of Takumi splitting wood. He laboriously collects fresh water from the spring for the local noodle house (owner Hazuki Kikuchi), also the fresh wasabi growing there.

Evil Does Not Exist opens with a meditative 10-minute sequence (without dialogue) of shots of a tracery of branches against the sky with music by award-winning composer Eiko Ishibashi. Sometimes in Evil Does Not Exist, the only sound is footsteps crunching on snow-covered ground.

Before it became a film the original project was to create a music video, in a way similar to the genesis of Perfect Days, for which the original idea was a promotional short.

One day, the village inhabitants become aware of a plan to build a glamping site offering city residents a comfortable ‘escape’ to nature but despoiling the idyllic countryside for the locals.

When two company representatives from Tokyo, meekly polite Mayuzumi (Ayaka Shibutani) and slick Takahashi (Ryuji Kosaka), arrive in the village to hold a meeting, it becomes clear that the project will have a negative impact on the village septic tank, clean local water supply, the existing deer trail and could cause wildfires, to the villagers’ unrest and upset (mayor Taijiro Tamura). The phoney ‘town hall’ meeting the representatives hold, aimed at deflecting any opposition rather than debate, shot in real time, is surprisingly riveting, reminiscent of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People.

Even these two realise how out of touch with real life in the country they are. A second car journey where they discuss their dissatifaction humanises them. Nature works its magic when they spend a day in the village with Takumi.

We hear the gunshots of hunters in the distance in the woods and learn about gutshot deer, ie deer who are wounded and left to die, and that deer are harmless and only turn violent if one of their young is threatened.

The agency’s mismatched intentions endanger both the ecological balance of nature, the animals, the inhabitants and their way of life, with a sudden aftermath that affects all their lives deeply.

Evil Does Not Exist is beautiful to look at (cinematographer Yoshio Kitagawa) as well as to listen to. Its quiet, slow-burn message that puts the natural world at its centre stays with you.

Evil Does Not Exist premiered at the Venice Biennale, where it won five awards including the Silver Lion – Grand Jury Prize and Best Original Music for composer Eiko Ishibashi, screened at the London Film Festival and is released by Modern Films on 5 April 2024 in the UK. Picturehouse is delighted to play host to a special Green Screen screening with a recorded introduction from the director, followed by a panel discussion.
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