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Evil Does Not Exist: a powerful Japanese eco-drama

Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s breakthrough cinematic masterpiece, Drive My Car (2021), won him deserved critical acclaim. The film is a feat of storytelling that beautifully juxtaposes the enormity of grief with the everyday mundane.

His new film, Evil Does Not Exist, is equally powerful in its use of juxtaposition. However, here he is tackling the thorny issues of gentrification (where wealthier people move in and displace and price locals out), environmentalism and the urban-rural divide. As someone who researches communities flourishing in the face of political and economic pressure, I was excited to see it.

The film is a serene (yet always on the cusp of disconcerting) tale set in the small village of Mizubiki near Tokyo. Its proximity to such a sprawling metropolis belies the distinctly opposite nature of life in the hamlet.

Evil Does Not Exist follows Takumi and his daughter Hana as village life is turned upside down by a large conglomerate called Playmode. This company wants to set up a glamping (glamorous camping) site for tourists visiting Mizubiki.

Glamping is generally an expensive affair mostly for middle-class professional types who want to camp but in comfort – a sort of encounter with nature but with all the trappings of the modern world. Think tepees with proper beds, wood-burning stoves, toilets and more.

This might seem innocuous – the company name Playmode certainly is trying to project some sort of innocence. However, the paradoxes at play here – nature but not nature, rugged but comfortable – are central to Hamaguchi’s subtle but profound critique of the contemporary forces of a corporate, gentrifying capitalism and its impact on traditional Japanese life and rurality.

Scenes from real life

Takumi is a man of