Evil Does Not Exist is a Powerfully Existential Ecothriller

Hanah from Evil Does Not Exist

Evil Does Not Exist is a hauntingly elegant movie that brings all of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s incredible talents into focus. His films are often painfully beautiful tone poems about the lives of characters who feel as though they live beyond the confines of the screen. After watching one of his movies, I feel as though I have finished a great novel because of their capacity to bring me into the lives and worlds of their characters. Evil Does Not Exist is no exception, but it manages to get there with more economy than his previous films, and the result is a gut punch.

Evil Does Not Exist is Hamaguchi’s 14th feature-length film, though most moviegoers in the West probably only became aware of him after 2021’s masterpiece Drive My Car released to much-deserved acclaim. His movies usually portray densely-populated urban environments filled with characters who only reveal themselves to us slowly, eventually building to thrilling, powerful catharsis. For this film, Hamaguchi turned to nature for inspiration and populated his world sparingly. It stars Hitoshi Omika as Takumi, an “odd job man” in the village, and widower father, in his first acting role (though he has worked with Hamaguchi behind the camera on 2021’s Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy). It also stars Ryo Nishikawa as his daughter, Hana, and Ryuji Kosaka and Ayaka Shibutani as Takahashi and Mayuzumi, two hapless but good-natured corporate suits.

This movie begins as a Pastoral about an almost Edenesque rural village outside of Tokyo, turns into an Eco-thriller about a short-sighted monied idiot trying to make a quick profit by opening a glamping site without regard for the ecological implications for the local community, and turns into something else entirely for the climax—what exactly that is will be debated by audiences for a long time, but suffice it to say that it is a hauntingly beautiful finale that leaves the audience questioning what they just witnessed. I sat dumbfounded as the credits rolled, eager to watch it again.

Blood dripping off a thorn from Evil Does Not Exist

Evil Does Not Exist begins with a four-minute tracking shot of Winter-beaten tree branches, looking up from the ground to the sky. As we watch the trees seemingly float overhead, the audience becomes conscious of how unnatural this perspective is. One cannot constantly look towards the sky while walking lest we lose our footing, and human beings cannot walk as smoothly as a camera can track. While peaceful, the effect of this perspective is increasingly unnerving because of its unnaturalness—this is not a perspective that a human being can achieve on its own.

Perhaps this is an invitation to ponder the natural world and our place within it, to consider what is and is not “natural.” This shot repeats at the end of the film, efficiently book-ending the narrative, but by the end, our questions are more urgent, and we have blood on our hands.

After the aforementioned tracking shot, we are given a series of scenes that vividly depict a peaceful rural life: a man expertly chopping firewood for the winter, then going to a spring with a friend to collect water. After, they discover some wild wasabi that they pick for a dish. We hear rifle shots as hunters shoot dear nearby. These are scenes of people collecting the gifts that nature offers them. All of this is richly shot by Yoshio Kitagawa and presented in long takes that make the audience feel as though we’re sharing in these gifts as if we aren’t outsiders. Hamaguchi favors long takes with medium shots at eye level, which gives his movies a naturalistic feel and makes the viewer feel as if we are there with the characters, partaking in their activities and conversations with very human perspectives.

Many outdoor scenes in Evil Does Not Exist are shot from some distance away from the characters, which allows tree branches and other vegetation to intervene between the characters and the camera lens, reminding us of the centrality of nature in such a rural village as this. The effect gives Nature a perspective as if we’re watching the events unfold through the gaze of the natural world. All of this is set to a pitch-perfect score by Eiko Ishibashi that begins simply and becomes more discordant as the film itself becomes increasingly complex and mysterious. Her compositions feel right at home accompanied by chainsaws, feet crunching fallen leaves underfoot, and the sounds of a cigarette burning: the sounds of rural life. Sometimes, the score suddenly cuts off, reinforcing how unnatural it is, and bringing the actual sounds of nature, the running streams, the wind through the leaves, the chorus of birds, into sharp focus.

Three people sitting at a table eating a meal.

We soon learn that a corporation plans on erecting a glamping site in the village and has invited villagers to a town meeting to discuss it. There are no cliche country bumpkins here; each member of the village is intimately connected to the natural world and understands how easily that connection can be severed and it’s clear from the start that the villagers know more about the health of their environment than the suits who have been sent to conduct the meeting, and that the meeting is itself little more than a show to give the appearance of caring about the input of the villagers, whose input is all but discarded. The poor corporate schlubs (Takahashi and Mayuzumi) who were sent by the company are summarily, but politely, eaten alive by the impassioned villagers who rightly view the glamping site, and those who represent the interests of the company, as existential threats.

In a halfhearted attempt to woo at least some of the villagers to support the glamping site, the company representatives approach Takumi, the well-respected town “odd job man,” to offer him a job at the yet-to-be-constructed site, which he immediately declines. Still, they want his advice and offer to help him out with some of his odd jobs, and Takahashi is so taken with this rural lifestyle that he seriously considers moving to the village, forgetting that he is an outsider, and a threat to their way of life.

Hamaguchi’s films are always urgently existential, with a focus on how we connect with one another and how we find meaning in those connections, usually in ways that we wouldn’t expect. This film is similar, but thematically larger, as it extends the questions of connection to the natural world. How do we form and break those connections? What meanings do those formations and breakings create? What damage is done when we sever them?

This movie does not attempt to answer those questions, but it does offer us ways to consider them. This is a movie rich with visual symbolism. Consider an early image: a father walks his daughter through the woods on their way home from school. As they go, he asks her to name the trees, which she does remarkably well. There is a harmony in their conversation at home in that serene environment. Eventually, they come upon the decomposing skeleton of a fawn and the father notes that it was gut-shot and left for dead—a reminder of the destruction that occurs when we take from nature thoughtlessly, of the violence inherent in our relationship with nature.

A person standing in a parking lot with their arms stretched out to their sides and legs spread apart.

If I’ve made it sound like there is a difference between human beings and nature, that’s a concept that the movie invites us to consider as well. If evil does not exist in the natural world (who can blame an animal for attacking a person when it is threatened, hurt, or hungry?), it certainly seems to in the human world. Does that mean that humans are a distinct force, opposed to nature? Can we ever be more than an invader and pillager of the environment around us? Is it possible to reforge the bonds that we’ve severed? Are we, with our capacity for love and compassion better than nature? With our capacity for hatred and greed, are we worse?

Characters in Hamaguchi’s movies often surprise us by making seemingly inexplicable choices that force us to reevaluate them as people, and this film takes that concept to new heights. These choices force us to realize that a movie can only ever give us an incomplete picture of who they are by showing us moments throughout a brief period in their lives, lives that exist beyond the frame of the film. To understand these choices, we often must re-watch Hamaguchi’s movies with their endings in mind, allowing it to color our understanding of who they really are, and why they made the choices that they did. With this film, we not only better understand the character in question, but, perhaps, ourselves and those around us as well.

Gliding on the ground while looking at the sky is like an inverted bird’s-eye-view. At the film’s opening, it is a peaceful if unnerving invitation to consider the world differently. When the shot is repeated during the nighttime at the close of the film, it is a shattering question mark.

Written by Dustin Roberts

I teach literature in a swamp. When I'm not doing that, I'm probably picking dog hair off of my clothing.

You can find me on Bluesky at

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