Evil Does Not Exist (2023)
Directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Starring Hazuki Kikuchi, Hitoshi Omika, Ayaka Shibutani, Hiroyuki Miura, Ryuji Kosaka, Ryo Nishikawa
As seen at the 42nd Annual Vancouver International Film Festival
For me, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s academy-award winning 2021 film Drive My Car (2021) came out of nowhere. At the time, I had yet to see a film from the Japanese director. Since his first film debuted 20 years ago, I might have lost some cool points by admitting that, but no bother. If his early films are even half as good as Drive My Car and his 2023 release, Evil Does Not Exist, then cool points be damned. I have some excellent cinema to imbibe.
Much like Drive My Car, Evil Does Not Exist can be considered “slow cinema.” Not just an homage to the idea of slow cinema, with a few tastefully glacial scenes, either. I’m talking about cinema so consistently slow that Hungarian filmmaker Bella Tarr (Satantango, Werckmeister Harmonies) would be proud.
In a quaint alpine village near Tokyo, a father and daughter live simply, relying on the land. The early scenes show their slow, intimate interactions with nature, which really endeared the characters and the film to me. Hamaguchi uses long, slow shots where characters move across the screen. When they leave, the camera lingers on nature, letting us immerse ourselves in the scene. Our immersion is enhanced by a rich score by Eiko Ishbashi, who previously collaborated with Hamaguchi on Drive My Car.
Hitoshi Omika portrays the father with a deep, stoic wisdom when dealing with villagers. Yet, he’s charmingly forgetful, like the time he’s late picking up his daughter from school. As for the daughter, Ryo Nishikawa nails it — she’s curious and upbeat, untouched by the usual anxieties of today’s kids. Who needs WiFi or smartphone games when the thrill is in discovering the nuances of tree bark?
Just as in Drive My Car, the humor emerges from the understated chats between characters and their quirks. In Evil Does Not Exist, the hilarity is driven by two characters who stand in stark contrast to the villagers. It’s the kind of humor that might not leap off a script page but comes alive on screen, thanks to impeccable timing and delivery. Even characters with fleeting appearances dazzle with their genuine performances.
Much like Drive My Car, the humor comes from the subtle conversations between characters and what makes them different. In Evil Does Not Exist we are introduced to two characters who have almost nothing in common with the villagers and this dichotomy fuels the laughs that if read on paper might not seem as funny. The timing and delivery of these actors is masterful and even a few side characters with not much screen time shine with their authentic deliveries.
Film fans often have polarized views on ambiguous endings: they either cherish or despise them. I personally relish the discussions they ignite post-viewing. While some see these endings as cop-outs for lackluster writers, Evil Does Not Exist might appease both viewpoints. Some may interpret its conclusion as a straightforward account of the Father and Daughter’s fate, while others, drawn to the mystical, will find it a topic of debate for years.
I recommend you check out this film and seek out the rest of Hamaguchi’s catalog, I know I will.
For those at VIFF 2023, catch Evil Does Not Exist at 9:15 p.m. on Tuesday, October 3 at the Park Theatre.