Review: A Slow-Paced but Beautifully Poignant Evil Does Not Exist Explores a Small Community’s Connection to Nature

Following his 2021 Oscar-winning Drive My Car, writer/director Ryusuke Hamaguchi (whose also excellent Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy was released stateside the same year) takes a more oblique but no less potent and far more lyrical direction with Evil Does Not Exist. Its's the tale of handyman Takumi (newcomer Hitoshi Omika, who has worked on previous Hamaguchi movies as an assistant director), living in the quiet Japanese village of Harasawa (not far from Tokyo) with his young daughter Hana.

Takumi seems to make a living gathering fresh water from the local streams and selling it to local businesses, as well as chopping firewood. His knowledge of the natural world in this area is impressive and he hopes to hand this down to his daughter. The film takes its time revealing its drama, instead choosing to spend long stretches just observing the ecology of this community and its surroundings.

Eventually, we discover that this peaceful life and pure environment is in danger when a Tokyo-based developer buys up property and announces plans to build a “glamping” (glamorous camping for high-end clients) site. The townspeople reject parts of the plan and make their protests known at a tense town meeting with two representatives from the developer who turn out to be talent agents. Their arguments are sound, especially ones about the impact on their pristine water supply, which is the source of much of the town’s very existence. But the two representatives end up falling in love with the town and attempt to work with the locals, especially Takumi, to whom they offer the job of their project’s caretaker, to make the project less environmentally impactful.

But the film also zeroes in on the relationship between Takumi and his daughter, and how her natural curiosity and awareness that her father can be forgetful leads her into a storyline that takes over the narrative to a climax that is both symbolic of the divide between humans and nature, and quite literal as a cautionary tale about the dangers of nature when you mess with it. Evil Does Not Exist is a deliberately paced, stunningly shot, and frequently tense work as it considers why humans seem so eager to mess with and even destroy perfection. 

The film is now playing in select theaters.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.