DIFF 2024 Review | Hamaguchi’s Evil Does Not Exist is A Delicate and Devastating Masterwork

A young girl walks through the forest alone. Naked limbs of trees carve up the bright sky as Eiko Ishibashi’s score swells like a scene straight from a fairy tale, but fairy tales don’t exist. A distant gunshot disturbs the peace in this idyllic town. The girl’s father Takumi (Omika Hitoshi) has forgotten to collect her from school. The still, peaceful shots in the forest are upended as the camera, now actively following the absent-minded father jolts to life. Takumi journeys through the forest in search of his daughter, disappearing behind foliage only for the family to emerge together, a joyous reunion that can only be achieved in cinema.

The townsfolk in Mizubiki live in seeming harmony as Takumi gathers spring water for a local restaurant that has a near-magical effect on the noodles. This blissful existence does not last long as a glamorous camping or ‘glamping’ company seeks to set up a retreat in the heart of the township’s forest. What ensues is a theatrical town hall sequence that perfectly blends realism and absurdity. The corporate interlopers and the villagers go back and forth over the location of a septic tank on the campgrounds that would have a disastrous impact on the spring water and livelihood of the town. Tension builds and dissipates as it becomes clear that the two unwanted guests (Kosaka Ryuji and Shibutani Ayako) do not want to be there themselves.

After the planners and the villagers grow tired of empty platitudes, the two planners return to Tokyo with their tails between their legs and vow to earnestly listen to and resolve the complaints raised during the consultation. Unfortunately, their manager (who zooms in from a car) only offers compensation for one issue to distract from the other, like plastering over a gunshot while infection festers.

Ryuji and Ayako return to the township in an attempt to connect with the inhabitants as Ishibashi’s entrancing score swoons both mournful and hopeful. The planners themselves struggle to compromise on the long car ride, opting to not smoke in the car instead of simply opening a window. This inability to connect hampers their task as good intentions, such as bringing Takumi a bottle of whiskey, fail as he doesn’t drink. While we only get a fleeting glimpse of these characters’ lives, they are fully fleshed humans whose hopes and dreams are often dashed.


Ryuji, having grown tired of city life with its dating apps and careerism, seeks to stay in Mizubiki when they return. He seeks to prove his prowess to the locals by struggling to chop wood and collecting spring water. Ryuji is filled with pride after his first hard day’s work in who knows how long and is moved when Takumi asks if he smokes. This momentary joy quickly evaporates as he realises that he is being asked for a cigarette and not offered one.

Takumi again forgets to collect his daughter from school but this time there is no harmonious reconnection in the forest. The townsfolk and the intruders come together in the search for the missing child. Torch lights frantically flitter between trees to Ishibashi’s sparse searching piano. The slow-moving uncanny valley nature of the film transitions toward poetic imagery as tragedy entrenches the views of the townsfolk.

Some viewers may be put off by the at times glacial nature of the Evil Does Not Exist, particularly the opening sequence in which the sound of wood being chopped echoes for miles, but director Ryusuke Hamaguchi and cinematographer Yoshio Kitagawa’s poetic imagery and Hamaguchi’s hilariously matter-of-fact dialogue make for a moving portrayal of converging beliefs and the need to find common ground.

Evil Does Not Exist screened at DIFF 2024 and is out in Irish cinemas April 5th

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