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Tuesday June, 25

Evil Does Not Exist Review

Evil Does Not Exist, written and directed by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (who also wrote and directed Academy Award winning film Drive My Car), had its MENA premiere in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, at the Red Sea International Film Festival (RSIFF) where it is competing in the official Red Sea Competition. 

Born originally of a desire to have a film created to accompany composer Eiko Ishibashi’s soothing music, this Japanese drama is rich in eco undertones. The audience observes the unravelling of the story through the protagonist’s character, Takumi, played by Japanese actor Hitoshi Omika. The film, which won the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Venice International Film Festival, showcases local insight as an avenue for a deeper understanding and appreciation of land and water. 

With films like Oppenheimer and Killers of the Flower Moon abusing runtimes in 2023 and Hamaguchi’s own last film Drive My Car at 2hr59, it is refreshing to have an impactful film of digestible length at 1hr46. Set in Mizubiki Village, in the forest outskirts of Tokyo, Evil Does Not Exist is a steadily thought-provoking film, painting a vivid picture of the intrinsic value of the natural environment and its interconnectedness with the villagers and their livelihoods. 

Evil Does Not Exist revolves around Takumi, a dull single father and ‘jack-of-all-trades’, chopping wood and collecting water where he lives with his only daughter, Hana, played by Ryo Nishikawa. The narrative unfolds as two representatives of a diversified TV talent agency, Playmode, conduct a public consultation pushing a glamping site project in the area, targeted at rich Tokyo residents in need of a city escape.

The representatives Takahashi, performed by actor Ryuji Kosaka, and Mayuzumi, personified by actress Ayaka Shibutani, are clearly deaf to the locals’ concerns and advice, merely present to tick a bureaucratic box in order to receive pandemic subsidies, an element that places the film very much in the present, post-pandemic world. The locals act in unified solidarity, all worried about the placement of the new sewage system septic tank. It becomes apparent that many of the locals’ livelihoods and businesses depend on the natural resources available. The prospect of a glamping site in their area would disrupt the local fauna, notably the deer population who pass through, and would create a toxic environment by allowing the sewage for the glamping site to contaminate the water. 

The film emphasises the importance of local skills and knowledge. It explores the conflict between corporate interests and the natural world through the lens of Takumi’s character. Cinematographer, Yoshio Kitagawa, enhances the visual appeal of the film with simple, strikingly beautiful images of Hana, who often walks alone in the forest and is connected to nature through her father’s passing down of knowledge. Wrapped in her blue windbreaker, her face framed by the snow and bare trees, she looks like a picture of innocence. Ryo Nishikawa’s performance is flawless. 

Some humanising open, honest and somewhat awkward conversations are had between the two Playmode representatives while they are driving back to the village. The values of sustainability seem to be seeping into them, showing how notions of good and bad are malleable and humans can change. There is an attempt to question the glamping site project during a zoom meeting with the boss, but as a caricature of capitalist greed, the CEO brushes their concerns aside, preferring symbolic offerings devoid of tangible compromise. 

The film employs subtle mystical and magical elements, suggesting that nature is not fully understandable to humans. The cinematography captures the wild scenery in breathtaking images, with clear, white snow and an abundance of trees. The editing style deliberately creates abrupt ruptures of music and image which is slightly distracting for the viewer but perhaps reveals the disconnection that appears when ties between humanity and nature are broken. A key message of the film is the merit of local input on environmental issues, with ‘local’ including those having migrated from outside of the village. 

SPOILER ALERT

This dark eco film takes a shocking turn with the tragic death of Takumi’s daughter, Hana, symbolising nature’s forceful retaliation against the perceived betrayal by Takumi in accepting work with the developers. With revenge doled out by nature, Takumi, distraught and enraged, leaps towards Takahashi, the corporate representative. They wrestle for a while before Takahashi is eventually calmly strangled half to death by Takumi who promptly leaves the scene. The corporate representative manages to stand back up and takes a few steps before permanently collapsing back to the ground. 

The ending is unclear and abruptly violent with nature seeming to interfere in the business affair by making it personal, taking the life of the innocent child. Having lost his daughter, who he loved most, Takumi has little left to hold onto, descending into a being driven by an animalistic instinct to kill. 

Evil Does Not Exist calls into question our beliefs of good and bad, our moral standards and our true natures. The film foreshadows its ending with the statement: ‘If you go overboard, you upset the balance’. The ambiguous ending leaves viewers contemplating the consequences of disturbing the delicate balance between society and nature. Hamaguchi’s directing, coupled with planetary placement, makes this film a timely exploration of environmental consciousness and the consequences of neglecting the delicate ecosystem we inhabit. It does not however answer the question of the contradiction for city dwellers wanting to spend time in nature without disturbing it. 

WATCH EVIL DOES NOT EXIST TRAILER

The Red Sea International Film Festival (RSIFF) is located in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on the shores of the Red Sea, this rapidly growing MENA region film festival attracts and nurtures worldwide talent.

Cassie Jo
Cassie Jo
Cassie Jo is an international film journalist specialising in sustainability on screen.

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