Drama Evil Does Not Exist

The Nature of Things: A TIFF Review of ‘Evil Does Not Exist’

September 22, 2023Ben MK

Whether it's a straightforward documentary like An Inconvenient Truth, a sci-fi parable like Godzilla, or an anime fantasy like Princess Mononoke, filmmakers over the years have used a multitude of genres to tell compelling stories with an environmental message. It's a cinematic tradition that continues to this very day with movies like the Avatar franchise. And with Evil Does Not Exist, writer-director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi finds himself in good company, as he follows up his award-winning Drive My Car with a cautionary drama about the residents of a rural Japanese community and their battle with commercial developers from the big city looking to exploit their land.

Set in the small town of Mizubiki Village, a tight-knit community nestled amongst the forest and far removed from the hustle and bustle of nearby Tokyo, the story begins with Takumi (Hitoshi Omika), a man well-versed with living off the land, who resides in a modest house with his eight-year-old daughter Hana (Ryô Nishikawa). Travelling to a nearby stream every morning to collect water for cooking and chopping firewood from nearby trees, Takumi is no stranger to doing what it takes to ensure a harmonious coexistence with nature. However, when representatives from a company called Playmode arrive in town to float the idea of building a commercial glamping site in the area, the very notion arouses feelings of anger among the locals. Voicing their disapproval at a town meeting, Takumi and his neighbors make sure to let their visitors know about the myriad of reasons why the planned construction shouldn't proceed. But after their opposition falls on woefully deaf ears, will Mother Nature herself intervene and, in her own way, help Takumi send a message that will make others stand up and take heed?

Unfolding at a deliberate and purposeful pace, the result trades traditional storytelling conventions for a more atypical narrative structure that, depending on viewers' patience levels, may not be for everyone. More akin to a leisurely stroll as opposed to a high-speed joyride, Evil Does Not Exist is the kind of film that makes up for its lack of thrills with an abundance of atmosphere. Rest assured, however, for if you're able to take the time and walk hand in hand with these characters, there's a good chance you'll be richly rewarded.

Evil Does Not Exist screens under the Special Presentations programme at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 1 hr. 46 min.

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