Wednesday 27 March 2024

Evil Does Not Exist [2023]

 Contrary to what its ominously ironic title supposedly suggests, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi asserted otherwise – viz. evil’s malleable forms and arbitrary manifestations – in his moody, shape-shifting and beguiling film Evil Does Not Exist. The evocation of its disquieting atmosphere was established in the overture itself, which comprised of a languorous tracking shot observing a dense canopy of trees, accompanied by Eiko Ishibashi’s rapturous composition, with whom Hamaguchi had previously collaborated in the brilliant Drive My Car. The scene suddenly cuts and the non-diagetic score is abruptly replaced with eerie silence; this unsettling aesthetic shift recurred over the course of the deliberately paced narrative that ambiguously ended in media res, thus amplifying the impact of its shocking finale, while reinstating the densely moulded commentaries of this brooding morality tale and smouldering eco-political thriller. Set in a tranquil hamlet, its delicate ecological balance and the residents’ harmonious co-existence with nature come under direct threat when a rapacious Tokyo organization – sardonically embodying late-stage capitalism multiplied few times over – purchases land there for setting up “glamping”, i.e. a farcical playground for wealthy city dwellers, which is bound to pollute the nearby stream’s pristine water, increase chances of forest fires, and put local lifestyles at dire risk. Takumi (Hitoshi Omika), a taciturn man who does various odd jobs for villagers and has a profound intimacy with his stunningly photographed surroundings which he’s inculcated into his little daughter, embodies – unbeknownst to the company’s two representatives – the outward placidity and underlying ferocity of the natural world. In a fine display of nuance, these two reps, who elicit strong negative perceptions during a meeting with the residents who display stirring community solidarity, are themselves exasperated by their devious profession.

p.s. Watched it at the 2024 Bangalore International Film Festival (BIFFES)

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Mystery

Language: Japanese

Country: Japan

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