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Evil Does Not Exist – BFI London Film Festival 2023 (Film Review)

3 min read

This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi has earned a stellar reputation in recent years with acclaimed films like Happy Hour, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy and Drive My Car which was nominated for Best Picture and Director at the Oscars and won Best Adapted Screenplay. He makes his much-anticipated return with Evil Does Not Exist, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Venice Film Festival.

Our focus is the small rural village of Harasawa, surrounded by imposing forests. Tokyo company Playmode has decided to interrupt the beauty of this tranquil environment by building a glamping site that will have potentially dire consequences for the ecological health of the area and cleanliness, posing a threat to both humans and the local wildlife, who live in tandem with the villagers.

It is clear from the outset that this is a slow meditative piece, with drawn-out shots of Takumi, the village odd-job man chopping wood, who cares for his daughter Hana. There is little in the way of dialogue but it gives a sense of the isolating nature of living in the village and captures its stunning views. It takes a little while for the narrative to pick up, but when it becomes clear that the area is at risk from the glamping site, the local community bands together to hear out their plans and try to enforce the importance of nature for their everyday lives.

A town hall meeting between Playmode and the village is a terrific sequence that feels authentic and shows the bureaucratic issues that come with such projects and the lack of care from those organising. The organisers of the project hadn't come themselves, instead sending talent agents who mostly work on TV/Film. This frustrates Takumi and co, who make it clear that for the project to go ahead certain measures will need to be put in place. There is a real sense of tension and frustration on both sides.

A strong middle section really signals that Hamaguchi is on top of his game with the terrific juxtaposition of the Tokyo base for the organisers and the idyllic rural lives of those who will be affected. In the last few minutes, we get a sense perhaps of the film's title as we shift into different territory. This may well lose some viewers as it is quite an abrupt shift that doesn't properly resolve itself. In truth, this may be the point but given the strength of the town hall meeting and subsequent scenes, it is a tad disappointing.

Evil Does Not Exist is more uneven than Hamaguchi's very best work, letting itself down with a frustrating ending. But for the most part, it does a terrific job at capturing rural Japan and its contrast with Tokyo, making this a wholly believable film that will resonate with many and our frustrations around misuse of the natural world.

Evil Does Not Exist was shown as part of this year's .