Evil Does Not Exist | Picturehouse Recommends

Drive My Car director Ryusuke Hamaguchi returns with a hypnotic new offering - one that might not be quite what you expect.

Ian Freer

28 Mar 24

Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Release Date
5 April


Hitoshi Omika, Ryo Nishikawa, Ryuji Kosaka, Ayaka Shibutani


Running Time
106 mins

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize in Venice last year, Evil Does Not Exist, the new film from Oscar nominee Ryusuke Hamaguchi, is a massive gear change from his three-hour global hit Drive My Car.

A much more intimate affair than his breakthrough hit, it's a spellbinding and sometimes unsettling meditation on hot-button themes – chiefly around our relationship with the environment – laced with stunning filmmaking and minutely observed character moments. Screen Daily described it as "an absorbing film of quiet power".

Befitting such an original film, Evil Does Not Exist has an idiosyncratic genesis. Hamaguchi initially conceived the project as footage to accompany a live performance by Drive My Car composer Eiko Ishibashi. Out of this unique collaboration, a simple but affecting story emerged.

Reserved handyman Takumi (a terrific Hitoshi Omika, who is not an actor but a crew member from Hamaguchi's Wheel Of Fortune And Fantasy) and his daughter, Hana (Ryo Nishikawa), live in Mizubiki Village, close to Tokyo. It's an idyllic setting that wouldn't feel out of place in a Miyazaki animation, all babbling brooks, a sprinkling of snow and pines. Both Takumi and Hana commune with nature, Hana playfully chasing deer and Takumi chopping logs and collecting water in canisters for the local noodle restaurant.

Of course, there's a villainous corporation to ruin this perfect paradise. Playmode, a Tokyo agency needing to spend government Covid-relief cash before the cut-off date, are looking to build a glamping site near Takumi's abode offering wealthy city slickers the chance to be at one with nature.

The company dispatches two representatives, cynical middle manager Takahashi (Ryuji Kosaka) and his more open female colleague Mayuzumi (Ayaka Shibutani), to present their ill-prepared plans to the village via a bland corporate video.

It soon becomes clear that the bougie development will not only infect and pollute the local water supply but also increase the risk of forest fire. As well as upsetting the ecological balance, these mismatched intentions would endanger the village's simple way of life. This hostile takeover would have serious implications for Takumi and Hana's life.

Armed with this delicious premise, Hamaguchi's twisty-turny screenplay doesn't go where you expect. Following a spicy meeting between the residents and the company operatives, the film changes direction, towards Takahashi and Mayuzumi. Hamaguchi humanises the two agents of capitalism being won over by the gentle pace of life and finding joy in taking part in the simplest chores. The arc from complete indifference to an understanding of a different way of life is subtly and humorously etched by Kosaka and Shibutani.

The filmmaking is continually audacious. For starters, it's a full 10 minutes before a word is uttered. Rather than dialogue, the film opens on a tracking shot that gazes up at a forest canopy, scored with Ishibashi's wistful strings. Hamaguchi, working with co-editor Azusa Yamazaki, gives the drama a slow build, imbuing the drama with hypnotic, unpredictable rhythms that help create a sense of dread that works almost by stealth.

Yet just when you feel you've got a handle on the film's slippery M.O., Evil Does Not Exist delivers a sucker punch – perhaps the most surprising, talked-about ending to a film so far this year.

Whether the film delights or puzzles, it is further testament to the risk-taking talent of a new, singular voice in world cinema.   Ian Freer

Quick Q&A: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

How did Evil Does Not Exist represent a different way of working for you?
The core of the production was creating video footage for Eiko Ishibashi's live performance, and naturally, it would become like a silent film. This meant that I couldn't develop the film through dialogue as I had done before. That was the most significant difference and it was the most intriguing point of this project for me. Moreover, nothing was predetermined and I could try anything.

Why did you cast your lead actor Hitoshi Omika?
Hitoshi was actually a member of the production staff in Wheel Of Fortune And Fantasy. Originally, he accompanied us on location scouts as a driver, along with the cinematographer, Yoshio Kitagawa. We often had him try out various shots we came up with on location. Gradually, I couldn't imagine anyone else in the lead role but him.

How did the images inform the drama?
I felt that the visuals existing powerfully and largely independent of Eiko's music would create the most compelling synergy when eventually combined with her music. As a result, each actor, led by Hitoshi, was truly remarkable, and I was moved on set.

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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.