Saturday, May 4, 2024

Tonal Exercise

Evil Does Not Exist (2023) - Hamaguchi Screen Shot 2024-05-03 at 1.09.46 PM Screen Shot 2024-05-03 at 2.17.49 PM Screen Shot 2024-05-03 at 4.03.06 PM Screen Shot 2024-05-03 at 4.06.47 PM Screen Shot 2024-05-03 at 4.08.56 PM Screen Shot 2024-05-03 at 4.10.28 PM Concieved as a accompanying video for composer Eiko Ishibashi (Drive My Car), Ryusuke Hamaguchi's Evil Does Not Exists plays out like a tonal exercise, unsure of where it will ultimately lead to, like a good looking sourdough bread just came out of the oven, yet there's something wrong with it - underproved - a little dodgy.

It starts out unhurriedly with a long dolly tracking shot of the wood, looking up, with Ishibashi's swelling, mood setting score. Then it introduces Takumi (Hiroshi Omika), a tan faced, stoic widower in rural Japan. He is a local handyman in a close-knit community facing a development company from Tokyo trying to set up a 'glamping' site which would contaminate the water source- famous for its purity- that the whole village is dependent on.

The two city slicker representatives from the company, Takahashi (Ryuji Kosaka) and Mayuzumi (Ayaka Shibutani) get grilled by townsfolks (including Takumi) at the townhall presentations of the company's flawed plans. They realize that these people are no pushover country bumpkins. Through the long, soul searching conversations on the long drive back to Tokyo and back to the village, they realize they are on the wrong side.

Takumi is a forgetful fella. He constantly forgets to pick up his young daughter from a daycare and finds her in the woods walking home alone. It's a hunting season in winter. He tells her about the dead deer carcass in the woods they stumbled on. Deer don't attack people, they stay away from the presence of human activities, but a shot deer may attack you if you approach.

The city pair returns, thinking about quitting their jobs and learn the way of rural living from Takumi. It all seems idylic and unfussed, very different from cut-throat capitalist Tokyo environs where they are killing their souls and aspirations to make a living.

Hamaguchi is a very skilled director. His approach to filmmaking is unhurried, and dialogue and acting, natural. His films stand out among other contemporary Japanese films for that reason. He also has a way to bring out humanism of his characters who at first may not be too likable. He deals with many nuanced issues with Evil Does Not Exist - environmental destructions, city vs rural living and human nature.

But with its surprise ending, I question Hamaguchi's motive as unserious about all the issues he raised with the film. It feels like a mood experimentation with Ishibashi's score; setting things up to change the mood of the film this way or that way. Mysterious its end maybe, but I am left with feeling manipulated in a hollow exercise feeling like a bait, not unlike a little girl lost in the woods.