An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Nathan Weinbender reviews "Evil Does Not Exist"

Film still of Hitoshi Omika and Ryô Nishikawa in Evil Does Not Exist (2023).
Evil Does Not Exist, Fictive/NEOPA/Janus Films/Sideshow, 2023.
Film still of Hitoshi Omika and Ryô Nishikawa in Evil Does Not Exist (2023).


Evil Does Not Exist, the latest from director Ryusuke Hamaguchi, opens with the camera pointed up at the sky. It tracks along the snow-covered trees for several minutes before settling on a man silently and methodically chopping wood for several more minutes. It almost feels like a test for the audience: will you start to get antsy, or will you be mesmerized by Hamaguchi’s slow, languorous spell? It’s so meditative that sitting there watching it, you become more aware of your own breathing.

It also sets the tone for a movie whose pacing and rhythms match its setting: the rural village of Mizubiki. It’s a small town of only a few thousand people, a place that Hamaguchi depicts as lush and serene and far removed from 21st-century technology. The man we see chopping wood in the opening scene is also our protagonist, named Takumi (Hitoshi Omika). He lives with his young daughter in the heart of the forest and is a sort of handyman about town.

Not much happens in Mizubiki, until a company that specializes in luxury camping excursions announces that it’s building its newest site there. This will be a problem for a number of reasons: for starters, the camping site’s proposed septic system will surely contaminate the neighboring town’s water supply.

The camping company sends a couple of representatives to give a presentation that will surely assuage the concerned townspeople. It goes badly. The representatives come across as soulless and clueless bureaucrats, waving off genuine concerns with canned responses, and the meeting turns hostile. And then they decide to stay in Mizubiki, rather than fleeing in embarrassment, and a curious relationship develops between them and the stoic, taciturn Takumi, who agrees to give them a sense of what it’s really like to commune with nature.

Director Hamaguchi is best known for his Oscar-winning film Drive My Car, and as in that film, he pushes his plot in directions we’re not expecting. He also doesn’t overburden his characters with too much backstory or clumsy pathologizing; they sometimes act in ways that surprise or even confuse us, but that are never inconsistent with what we know about them.

Evil Does Not Exist builds inexorably to an ending that’s perhaps a bit shocking, and yet it somehow feels to me too tidy, too preordained. I’m still grappling with it. It reminded me a bit of John Sayles’ divisive Limbo in the way it slowly boils over into potential violence and then leaves us hanging, wondering what exactly happened.

I’ve seen Evil Does Not Exist described as an ecological parable, and it is, to a degree. But I think that’s an oversimplification, even if it does rely on images of leaves and babbling brooks and fresh snow to tell its simple but forceful story. It’s really a film about the thoughtlessness of corporate capitalism and the commodification of rural lifestyles, and it’s about the mystery of this particular man, who seems so placid and level headed and yet has so much rage and disappointment bottled up inside him.

For Spokane Public Radio, I'm Nathan Weinbender.


Nathan Weinbender is a film critic and one of the regular co-hosts of Spokane Public Radio’s Movies 101 heard Friday evenings at 6:30 PM here on KPBX.

Related Content
  • The Seattle International Film Festival, which turned 50 this year, has taken over that city for the past week, showing dozens of movies of all kinds. Nathan Weinbender attended for a few days, and he looks at some highlights of his hours spent in the dark of the theater.