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“I felt something abstract had to be at the core” — Ryusuke Hamaguchi talks Evil Does Not Exist

5 min read

Ryusuke Hamaguchi rose to international prominence with Drive My Car, winning Best International Feature as well as being nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay at the 94th Academy Awards. Evil Does Not Exist is his second collaboration with composer Eiko Ishibashi, but it marks a departure in style from his previous work. Taking a music-first approach, it may be his most challenging film yet.

Ahead of its UK release, FILMHOUNDS had the pleasure of speaking with Hamaguchi about how it all came together.

is a really interesting film conceptually, I understand it started as a collaboration between you and Eiko Ishibashi.  Where did you find common ground between one another's art?

So this started with Eiko, who I worked with on Drive My Car, coming up to me and asking whether I would create visuals for a live performance. When she first came up to me with this idea I knew that I couldn't just make abstract images that go along with her music — so it took about a year of exchanging ideas together to realise what kind of direction to take this. By then I started to realise she was happy with anything I would make, whatever I decide to make.

From that, I decided to do what I usually do — to write a screenplay and make a film. The idea was that I'd make it and then we'd be able to pull some footage out of that for her live performances. Initially, we didn't really have plans to release the film as a film, but because the performances by the actors were so wonderful I asked Eiko whether we could make a film out of it as well. That resulted in the two pieces — Gift which is used for the live performance, and Evil Does Not Exist.

You seem to have an interest in the ways that different languages and cultures interact with one another, all the way from The Depths where you worked with Korean actors alongside a Japanese cast and crew, to Drive My Car where you make use of multiple languages. Evil Does Not Exist feels like it's going a step further — there's far less dialogue and it seems to use music as a universal language. Would that have happened without Eiko?

The big difference to anything I've worked on before, for me, is that I was thinking about how the images need to harmonise with Eiko's music. I've always thought of her music as being wonderful, but when considering the kind of visuals that would fit I knew I couldn't just do what I'd been doing in the past. Depicting the detailed nuances and living feelings of human relationships that I've done before didn't feel right — I felt something abstract had to be at the core.

However, I didn't want to just do something abstract. I needed the abstractness to still be tied to physical living human beings and to be expressed through physical living human beings. I was trying to figure out how to depict things that can't necessarily be said in words, or can't be turned into words. What in my earlier films was able to be said in dialogue, I was working out how I could say those things without words. That was the mission Eiko gave me through this project, and I think through that I was opened up to new possibilities.

A name that kept coming to mind for me was Jean-Luc Godard. Is that a fair comparison?

Yes, I was definitely thinking about Godard. After all, his passing was still very new in my memory when I was making the film. But the other thing about Godard is that he was sort of a common and shared language between both myself and Eiko. Eiko had said to me, “Godard's filmmaking feels like a musician making a film,” and I agreed to an extent.

In some ways, it was a dimension that we had really set ourselves towards. I was thinking about how he used sound and images together. There are also some visual references to some of his work. That all said, fortunately or unfortunately, I think ultimately Evil Does Not Exist is a very different kind of film from the ones Godard made.

It's a very different film from your previous work too. Compared to Drive My Car especially, Evil Does Not Exist feels far more experimental. Do you feel you have more freedom as a filmmaker after how successful that was?

Whether the success of Drive My Car gave me more freedom, is a difficult question to answer. I think in some ways yes, and in some ways no. Drive My Car is a film that really introduced my name to new places and to new people, and that may have created a situation where I can try and do more things. But what I can certainly say is that when I was making Evil Does Not Exist I was actually thinking about how I wanted to make something very different to Drive My Car. Because I was trying to get away from what I'd done before, I think in some senses I was feeling more tied by Drive My Car. At least when I was making this film.

I saw an interview where you said “Every film teaches you about the unexpected things in life.” Can you share something that has done that for you recently?

You know, when I said that I'm not sure I remember saying that every film does that. That said, a recent film that has is a Japanese film so perhaps it's not as well known abroad. Sho Miyake, who's a filmmaker of a slightly younger generation than me, made a film called All the Long Nights. It was screening at Berlin Film Festival last month, and I was very moved by it.

It depicts a man and a woman who live with a certain kind of illness and the film doesn't show any kind of way to solve what they're going through. But what it shows us is as much as a film can do, which is to use movement and light to show us how they live alongside it. I felt their lives were depicted in a very moving manner, and the way it was all shown was not something I felt I could do but it was something I wish that I could do.

Evil Does Not Exist is released in cinemas on April 5.