Morality is Questioned in "Evil Does Not Exist"

Evil Does Not Exist

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Studio: Incline
Genre(s): Drama
Rated: Not Rated

A meeting is being in a small Japanese town Hawasawa. The townspeople live in their own little world. While there is electricity, businesses, and even cars around, the people who live in it are isolated from the larger country. The best udon restaurant is run by a couple who use fresh mountain water rather than the stuff that comes from the tap, and the most respected person to be found isn’t the towns chief (a position most modern towns don’t have) but the common everyman who makes a living doing as many odd jobs as he can.

It is here that Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Evil Does Not Exist” takes place, and it is here we will spend our time. The follow-up to his Academy Award-winning “Drive My Car,” “Evil Does Not Exist” is a smaller, more personal film for the director. Originally planned to be a short film without any dialog, Hamaguchi decided to expand this to a feature film when he realized he had more to say than he had anticipated. I feel that he may not have had as much to say as he thought though, as the film drags on in many places and doesn’t have what I would consider to be a satisfying conclusion.

The meeting that I brought up at the beginning of this review is where the movie starts to get interesting, and it doesn’t take place until almost 40 minutes in. At this point we as the viewer have spent the movie with Takumi (Hitoshi Omika), the “odd job man” and his daily routine. We understand through his eyes how the town works and who the people are. Now he is being pitched a presentation from a couple of advertisers who want to sell the town on a glamping site, in which rich people can go camping without that whole “roughing it” thing that us poor folks must deal with.

The advertisers are turned away for one reason: there is reasonable concern that the placement of the septic tank will taint the water, which is one of the resources they are most proud of. The two advertisers hear these concerns and express to their boss that the plan likely won’t work. This isn’t the response he wants though; the government is handing out post-pandemic subsidies, and without this project the company won’t receive any of it. The two will just have to go back and try to appease the townsfolk and get them on board with the idea.

This means they will have to woo Takumi, who holds the town’s esteem and is the most open to working with them if conditions are met. The situation raises many questions from both sides of the table. Is the company being reckless in its pursuit of placing the glamping site in this small town? Will it benefit the people there? Is it wrong to disturb the environment? Who ultimately has the authority to make these calls? These are the questions (as are others I haven’t mentioned) that will haunt all the people in this movie, with answers being difficult to come by.

“Evil Does Not Exist” sounds like a horror movie when in reality it is an intimate character drama. The two advertisers are going down a bad path, but they seem to realize that, and question if they should change careers. Takumi may be selfless, but why does such an uneducated man have so much sway with the people? The movie is beautifully shot and engaging during many aspects of the film. It is also too long, and a more reasonable 80-minute runtime would have likely tightened things up some more. Hamaguchi himself seemed to have much reverence for the town he was filming in and wanted us to understand why he was concerned about its fate. He could have done that in half the time.