erik lundegaard


Sunday June 02, 2024

Movie Review: Evil Does Not Exist (2023)


It’s not often that you actively contemplate a movie’s title as you watch, but that’s what happens with Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Evil Does Not Exist.” The biggest reason, of course, is the title reads like a provocative grad school thesis. You're like: “Really? OK. Interesting to see where you go with this.” We also get many shots that hold for long periods of time on not much happening.  So your mind wanders. I know mine did. Generally toward the title.

And it happens immediately. Interspersed with the opening credits are long tracking shots looking up at trees in winter. Then we cut to a man creating logs from those trees. His axe work is quiet and efficient. So is that part of why evil doesn’t exist? Because isn’t he evil from the trees’ perspective? Just not ours? Or am I reading too much into things. (I'm reading too much into things.) 

Later, he and a friend cull water from mountain streams, while, off the trail, our quiet axe man, Takumi (Hitoshi Omika), spots wild wasabi. He points out it to his friend, who can use it for his restaurant. It's the first time I realized wasabi was a plant.

In the village of Mizubiki, the pace of life is the pace of nature. Then two representatives from a Tokyo corporation arrive to hold a town meeting about an upcoming glamping project. Don’t know “glamping”? I didn’t. It’s glamorous or high-end camping. The meeting is like most such meetings: a chance for residents to air their concerns about what’s happening, but just that: a chance. Everything feels  like a fait accompli.

Then quietly, methodically, the townspeople take apart the project.

What I like is the specificity of the complaints. Your septic tank is for 50 people, says Takumi’s restaurant friend, but your camp capacity is greater than that. Right, the reps say politely, but we won’t have maximum capacity all the time. Right, says the friend, equally polite, but as a business you’ll try for it, yes? Maximum capacity is your goal but you’re not preparing for your goal. Because you don’t care about runoff. The townspeople care about runoff. They worry about damage to the environment—which is their environment. They worry they’ll no longer be able to cull water from the mountain streams. Water flows down, Takumi says, and others repeat this like a mantra. And while the complaints are initially deflected in the manner of corporate PR, eventually the townspeople wear down the representatives. By the end, the corporate reps agree with the townspeople.

Back in Tokyo, though, the CEO, via video conference, isn’t moved. He still wants to go through with the project as budgeted, i.e., maximized for profits rather than environmental care. The townspeople want him at the follow-up meeting, since he’s the decision-maker, but he says he’s too busy for that. Hey, that guy everyone admires? The odd-job guy? Takumi? Why not just hire him for glamping  manager? That’ll allay concerns. That’s the CEO’s workaround. 

Now we get the long car-ride back to the village with the two reps, Takahashi and Mayuzumi (Ryuji Kosaka and Ayaka Shibutani), both of whom, we discover, kind of fell into the work and aren’t enamored of it. Takahashi in particular. He likes the village. He’s thinking of the manager position for himself. And when the two come upon Takumi chopping logs, he asks to do it, too. Later, he’ll say that chopping the log was the best he felt in 10 years.

The three each lunch at the friend’s restaurant, where Takumi turns down the offered position, then they help Takumi gather water from the mountain stream in the manner he did at the beginning. And like at the beginning, Takumi suddenly remembers he has to pick up his daughter Hana (Ryo Nishikawa) from school. Again, he finds out she’s already left to walk home. Except this time he can’t find her. Night falls. The whole village is out looking for her, calling her name. Mayuzumi injures her hand so it’s just Takumi and Takahashi together when they come across the fallen body.

To be honest, I thought they came across Hana, standing, confronting a wounded deer, but apparently that was just a flashback; or it was Takumi taking in the scene and figuring out what happened. In the woods, throughout, we’ve heard distant gunshots, and that afternoon, to a query from Mayuzumi, Takumi had rather serendipitously talked about when deer are dangerous to humans: when they’ve been gutshot. That’s what Takumi now thinks happened to Hana.

And then the oddity: As Takahashi begins to rush toward Hana’s body, Takumi grabs him from behind, takes him down and chokes him until he starts foaming at the mouth.

Loose ends
That’s the movie. Takumi gathers up Hana and takes her home, while Takahashi stumbles for a couple of steps and then falls in the snow. Is he alive? Is Hana? Why did Takumi choke him? Because he, too, is a wounded deer thrashing out at the nearest entity? Evil does not exist, just nature. 

Apparently Hamaguchi began this one as a short but it kept getting longer. Either way, it’s not “Drive My Car,” which I thought the best movie of 2021.

Posted at 01:12 PM on Sunday June 02, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 2023