Get us in your inbox

Evil Does Not Exist

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Evil Does Not Exist
Photograph: NEOPA, Fictive

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

‘Drive My Car’ director Ryusuke Hamaguchi crafts a gorgeous eco-fable that ends with a mythical mic drop

Japanese superstar-in-the-making Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s (Drive My Car) latest film is a touching ecological parable full of little feints and narrative red herrings. Just when you think it’s heading in one direction, it slips off elsewhere, like a fawn in the woods. I was left scratching my head by its mysterious ending, but found its hymn to community and the environment quietly spellbinding and a bit reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa’s own moving eco fable, Dersu Uzala (1975).

The languid opening, a tracking shot that gazes up at a forest canopy to make interlocking branches seem like alveoli in some giant lung, ushers you into an unspoilt forest outside a village, a few hours’ drive from Tokyo. Here, young Hana (Ryo Nishikawa) chases deer and her dad, taciturn handyman Takumi (Hitoshi Omika), chops logs and fills canisters with spring water for the local udon restaurant. With its babbling brooks, melting snow, oaks and pines, it’s so idyllic you half-expect Totoro to pop out from behind a bush. 

Needless to say, someone wants to spoil it: a Toyko glamping company who, in a gesture of casual disrespect out of keeping with this manners-conscious community, dispatch two talent agents to present their half-cooked plans for a new site in the forest. In a brilliantly staged, expectation subverting scene straight out of a Ken Loach film, the pair, jaded middle-manager Takahashi (Ryuji Kosaka) and his more idealistic female colleague Mayuzumi (Ayaka Shibutani), are soon having rings run round them by locals fretful by the very real prospect of polluted streams and forest fires.

It’s so idyllic you half-expect Totoro to pop out from behind a bush

This isn’t a Ken Loach film, though, and social-realist drama or a capitalist takedown aren’t highest on Hamaguchi’s agenda. Evil Does Not Exist makes its feelings known about the quest for a fast buck clear without labouring the point. Just as quickly, it switches perspective to ride shotgun with Takahashi and Mayuzumi as they return to the village with new empathy for its delicate ecosystem. 

Unusually, this film was initially conceived as footage to accompany a piece of live music by Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car composer Eiko Ishibashi. The music – all wistful strings – accompanies the film now, but those sui generis origins can still be felt in this collage of sharply topical themes and quietly observed character beats. Perhaps they even explain a tantalisingly elusive final scene that will bamboozle far greater minds than mine. 

In UK cinemas Fri Apr 5

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Cast and crew

  • Director:Ryusuke Hamaguchi
  • Screenwriter:Ryusuke Hamaguchi
  • Cast:
    • Rei Nishikawa
    • Hitoshi Omika
    • Ayaka Shibutani
You may also like
You may also like