Bluffer's Guide to Ryusuke Hamaguchi | Picturehouse Recommends

With Evil Does Not Exist coming to cinemas this Friday, get yourself up to speed with Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi.

Adam Smith

03 Apr 24

So, give me the lowdown... 

45-year-old Ryusuke Hamaguchi is one of the leading lights of contemporary Japanese cinema and is only the third Japanese director to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar (for 2021's Drive My Car). 

Hmm, well this is a bit embarrassing but . . . 

Let's start at the beginning. He was born in 1978 in Kanagawa. His father was a civil servant, leading to an itinerant childhood. Hamaguchi attended Tokyo University, got the film bug and worked in commercial cinema for a few years before enrolling in the film programme at Tokyo University of the Arts. There he was mentored by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, the director of J-horror classics including Cure (1997) and Pulse (2001). 

What was his early work like? 

In 2007, Kurosawa, an admirer of Tarkovsky's Solaris, staged a competition among his students to re-adapt Stanislaw Lem's book. Hamaguchi's script won the contest but sadly the movie that the students finally made cannot be shown because they didn't own the rights. 


Things got better. After the earthquake in 2011 he was commissioned to make a documentary about the survivors – but made three: the Tohoku Documentary Trilogy (2011–2013). It was these experiences as a documentarian that helped inform his attitude to drama (although he is sceptical about the distinction), which blends a documentarian's instincts towards truth with the creativity of his actors. "I learned how to use the camera correctly, which is to bring out the power of reality," he said. 

What are his influences?

"I think the biggest inception for me to becoming a director was watching Cassavetes." Like Cassavetes' films, Hamaguchi's work is heavily influenced by his interactions with actors. He often uses prolonged periods of rehearsal before commencing shooting. In the case of Drive My Car, it was six months' worth. 

Where would be a good place to start? 

Wheel Of Fortune And Fantasy (2021) is a three-part portmanteau movie that deals with the themes of fate, identity and desire. "Ingenious, playful, sparklingly acted and thoroughly entertaining," said The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. 

I assume he's got a new one heading our way? 

Evil Does Not Exist is an enigmatic, lyrical, sometimes disturbing eco-parable about a Tokyo conglomerate's plans to build a glamping site on an unspoilt piece of countryside  that is also the source of water for a local man's (Hitoshi Omika) noodle restaurant. "Meditative and moving," said Variety.

 Adam Smith

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Evil Does Not Exist is in cinemas from 5 April Book Now!

Special Screenings
Film Club screening on Wednesday 3 April, £1 for Picturehouse Members. Book here.
Green Screen presents, with a recorded introduction from director Ryusuke Hamaguchi and live post-film panel. Sunday 7 April. Book here.