Evil Does Not Exist review | A beautiful, deceptively furious ode to the environment

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Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s battle of ecology vs economy is as powerful as it is quiet. Here’s our Evil Does Not Exist review.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to appreciate the value of something before you propose pumping sewage into it.

For Evil Does Not Exist’s corporate ne’er-do-wells, that moment of epiphany comes in the form of single father, woodsman and all-round handyman Takumi (Hitoshi Omika). We first meet him and his daughter, eight-year-old Hana (Ryo Nishikawa) living a quiet life. She walks home from school on her own, Eiko Ishibashi’s beautifully sweeping score accompanying a cold sunlight glistening through the trees. He spends his time chopping logs and collecting water to send down to the local udon restaurant. For anyone who’s considered abandoning the daily grind and going to live in the woods, life couldn’t look much better.

Understandably, then, when a Tokyo talent agency Playmode plans to capitalise on government Covid grants and build a glamping site in the idyllic rural community, Takumi and the other residents aren’t best pleased. In a forensic takedown at a public consultation, Playmode find their site needs a two-metre fence around it to keep out an unfriendly deer population. More to the point, their too-small septic tank is about to leak into the locals’ famously clean water supply.

Takumi’s concerns will be taken into consideration, he’s told, before the company’s reps, Takahashi (Ryuji Kosaka) and Mayuzumi (Ayaka Shibutani), head back to the big city. Then we discover the corporate drones aren’t happy with the situation either. This wasn’t what they got into the industry for, they say. The whole site was a bad idea from the start. The locals don’t want sewage in their river; they see that now.

Unfortunately, their boss has other ideas. He likes money, see, which explains why a Tokyo talent agency would about-turn into the glamping industry in the first place. The expensive-looking consultant they’ve brought on board explains there simply isn’t enough money to change the plan now. And so back Takahashi and Mayuzumi go – to recruit Takumi to their cause, and to prepare the locals for their imminent gentrification by shit.

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All this plays out, for the most part, very quietly. Even as the stakes for this community get higher and higher, there’s scarcely a raised voice to be heard in Evil Does Not Exist. The loudest cries come from the company CEO when he realises his get-rich-quick scheme might not make him as rich as quickly as he’d thought. Ishibashi’s score is deployed only rarely – usually accompanied by lovingly shot vistas of the great outdoors. Most of the time, Hamaguchi is content to let us sit with the sounds of nature: babbling brooks; rustling branches; the satisfying thud of an axe on a tree stump.

But Evil Does Not Exist’s story quickly turns into something much more nuanced than the deliberately wry title suggests. It’s hardly plot-heavy, but by the end we find that apparent lightness has lulled us into a false sense of security. A visual poem which opens as a melancholic look at our relationship with nature ends with a brutality it’s difficult not to find disturbing. Don’t let the charming score and extended shots of trees fool you – Evil Does Not Exist is the angriest film about capitalism you’ll see this year.  

Evil Does Not Exist arrives in UK cinemas on 5th April.

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