Features Live Action Movies

Evil Does Not Exist
(Aku wa Sonzai Shinai,

Director – Ryosuke Hamaguchi – 2023 – Japan – Cert. 12a – 106m


A small, unspoiled village community is visited by two representatives of a company planning to set up a glamping facility – out in UK cinemas on Friday, April 5th

This starts and ends with a journey on foot through a forest with a viewpoint looking up at the branches of trees as quiet, meditative and arresting music by Eiko Ishibashi plays on the soundtrack.

A young girl of about eight (was it her viewpoint?) wanders through the woods.

A man chainsaws chopped tree trunks into small logs, then takes them near to his house to chop them for firewood. He puts several big, plastic cans in his car boot and drives out to a stream to fill them with water. Kazuo drops by to help the man load the filled bottles into his car. They hear gunshots, which the first man remarks he heard they were hunting in Kunihara.

At this point the first man Takumi (Hitoshi Omika) realises he’s forgotten to pick up his daughter from daycare, and drives over there to discover she’s given up waiting and walked home along. He finds her in the forest and gives Hana (Ryo Nishikawa), for that is her name, a piggyback home. They notice trees by species name and pass a gut-shot fawn skeleton on the way.

At the family meal, they talk about the visiting talent agency who plan to set up a glamping facility. They’re only after the subsidy, says one man, it’s been that way since the pandemic. Alone, later, Takumi rubs his hand over the piano keys and looks at the photo of himself with his wife and the younger Hana.

At the well-attended village meeting, the glamping company reps Takahashi (Ryuji Kosaka) and Mayuzumi (Ayaka Shibutani) show their short promo film, with jolly, upbeat music, a soundtrack which contrasts heavily with the more sedate and downbeat music that plays in journeys through the forest in the wider narrative.

The reps field questions and find themselves confronted with issues they hadn’t previously considered. Why is the septic tank below the capacity of the proposed numbers of glampers? Why is that tank going to be situated upstream, where it will pollute the local spring on which the village depends? (This from a woman who moved there four years ago to run a restaurant and has been amazed at the difference that the good quality water has made to her cooking.) Why are there only caretakers in the daytime – who is going to stop kids building campfires in an area where forest fires are a risk? (This from another woman who has had considerable experience as a campsite caretaker.) And why is there no consultant or boss at the meeting, since they are the only ones with the authority to change anything?

Takumi prevents the man who talked about subsidies from getting into a full on row, and the village chief makes an impassioned speech, saying the company needs to look hard at all the potential problems of the scheme.

Back at the company, the two reps are pressurised by their immediate superior and (on video-link) the boss, both of whom make it clear time is of the essence. They seem motivated by little more than making money, and send the two reps back to the village. On the drive, it becomes apparent that neither are really sympathetic to the small company’s aims. Both are ex-showbiz and may soon get out of this line of business.

They are instructed to butter Takumi up and offer him both alcohol and the glamping caretaker’s job, but he’s not interested. Instead, he takes them for lunch at the woman’s simple but pleasant restaurant. Afterwards, the pair help him fetch water in cans for the restaurant. Then Hana goes missing and, with the light falling, they go out to look for her…

The latest film for Oscar-winner Hamaguchi (Drive My Car, 2021) is a mixed bag. Leaving aside its somewhat baffling ending, which for this writer doesn’t work at all, it is slowly paced and paints quite an effective picture both of a small village community and of a small company trying to turn a profit for all the wrong reasons, with corporate employees caught in the middle.

You never really get to know the little girl, but the village looks like a pleasant enough place to live and raise kids, run a restaurant and wander in the woods, if that’s your thing. There is a scene at the end with a deer shot by a bullet, though, so there are clearly darker forces at work beyond the horizon.

And while the gentle pace allows for a detailed introduction to the small number of characters, part of me wondered what, exactly, was the point?

Evil Does Not Existis out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, April 5th.


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