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Evil Does Not Exist review – Ryu Hamaguchi’s enigmatic eco-parable eschews easy explanation

Venice film festival: Compositional quirks and unhurried direction turn this tale of a Tokyo company buying up land near a pristine lake into a complex and mysterious drama

Ryu Hamaguchi’s quietist, enigmatic eco-parable Evil Does Not Exist refuses easy explanations and perhaps it refuses difficult explanations as well. It’s a complex drama, a realist film teetering on the edge of the uncanny, whose very title points the way towards the idea that there are shades of grey in every judgment we make. It is arguably opaque and contrived, and will possibly exasperate as many as it intrigues, but I found it rippling around in my mind long after the final, extended shot with its two figures receding into the mist.

At first glance, this seems a cut-and-dried case of a story about corporate capitalism despoiling the environment: Takumi (played by acting newcomer Hitoshi Omika, a former AD in Hamaguchi’s previous films) lives with his young daughter Hana in a beautifully unspoiled village – almost like a figure in a folk tale. This idyllic spot, with a deer trail, is a short drive outside Tokyo: Takumi apparently makes a living chopping wood and gathering clear water from a stream in billy cans for a local noodle restaurant for whom this is an essential ingredient, far superior to mere tap water. Inevitably, this paradise can’t last: Takumi is already slightly uneasy at the gunshot-sounds of people hunting nearby, and for all that he is a devoted father, he has a bad habit of forgetting to pick Hana up from school.

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