‘Evil Does Not Exist’ — a commerce/nature fable with a twist


“Evil Does Not Exist” begins at the M.V. Film Center on Wednesday, May 29. Directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, this beautiful Japanese film, winner of the Venice Grand Jury Award, and called an “eco-fable” by TimeOut magazine, tells two stories. One story is of residents of a rural town not far from Tokyo grappling with Playmode, a glamping developer. The other story reveals nature to Hana, an 8-year-old girl (played by Ryo Nishikawa) through the eyes of her widowed father (Hitoshi Omika).

The film starts with overhead shots of Hana walking through the woods, then it cuts to her father, Takumi, using a chainsaw to cut a tree trunk. We then watch Takumi gather water — the village restaurant uses the stream for fresh water. Each scene has no dialogue, and builds a human-nature cohabitation story through ambient sound and still frame shots. 

What follows, in contrast, is an audience of villagers responding to Playmode, a Tokyo-based company, as they present their business opportunity. Ryuji Kosaka as Takahashi and Ayaka Shibutani, his female partner Mayuzumi, are scouts in town, trying to convince residents that glamping, camping sites for tourists, would be good for their village. 

The villagers question and criticize their glamping idea, but don’t outright reject it. Their complaints include that the company’s septic center will pollute the town’s water. A woman with a restaurant explains she has moved to Mizubiki because of the water. The village’s leader explains that water moves downhill, so that those below will be affected negatively if the septic system stays where it is located. One villager suggests Playmode is rushing construction to meet the deadline on government subsidies. Mayuzumi responds sympathetically, saying the company has been ignorant of the villagers’ concerns.

Back in Tokyo, the two agents listen as the company’s head responds by saying they can accommodate some, but not all, of the villagers’ requests. They should get Hana’s father to act as overseer, and bring him booze to entice him. When they return to ask Takumi, he states that he doesn’t drink, isn’t lazy, and doesn’t need the money.

The still frames of nature, deer tracks through surrounding woods and sometimes offbeat village scenes present a common developer-nature tension in an almost mythic way. What occurs as tension builds is a sense that something mysterious is telling a wholly different story. Blood dripping from a thorn, villagers posing still in the street reveal a taught and playful eco-fable, perhaps even a thriller, perfect for our time.

Portrayed with a subtlety characteristic of Japanese films, with a conflict hinted at by the title, “Evil Does Not Exist” is deeply worthwhile viewing.

Information and tickets for “Evil Does Not Exist” are available at mvfilmsociety.com.