THE STORY – Deep in the forest of the small rural village Harasawa, single parent Takumi lives with his young daughter, Hana, and takes care of odd jobs for locals, chopping wood and hauling pristine well water. The overpowering serenity of this untouched land of mountains and lakes, where deer peacefully roam free, is about to be disrupted by the imminent arrival of the Tokyo company Playmode, which is ready to start construction on a glamping site for city tourists—a plan, which Takumi and his neighbors discover, that will have dire consequences for the ecological health and cleanliness of their community.
THE CAST – Hitoshi Omika, Ryo Nishikawa, Ryuji Kosaka & Ayaka Shibutani
THE TEAM – Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 106 Minutes
The delicate balance of nature is one that is often thought about preserving. It seems even more apparent in our current times of global catastrophe that the natural world is in dire need of maintenance. It’s a sentiment that serves to illuminate a thought not merely of self-preservation. There is a deep sense of connectivity that is vital to sustain. It speaks to a more soulful bond that manifests a desire for equilibrium. A status that suggests that harm to the surrounding environment inflicts pain on society in a more profound manner. One would expect a filmmaker like Ryūske Hamaguchi to mine such delicate territory, and this is yet another tender exploration of the fragile human condition.
In the rural village of Mizubiki, just outside of Tokyo, Takumi (Hitoshi Omika) lives a mostly isolated and mundane life with his daughter Hana (Ryo Nishikawa). Tamuki is seen as the local handyman who makes a living by completing odd jobs around the village. However, this community senses an encroaching threat when it is revealed that plans are underway to establish glamping sites for tourists. Representatives from the company are dispatched to communicate with the residents, but it becomes clear the environmental and societal impacts have not been wholly considered. While Takahasi (Ryuji Kosaka) and Mayuzumi (Ayaka Shibutani) attempt to placate these concerns, they establish more of a bond with Takumi and discover the true value that such a life brings and the cost that comes with preserving it.
Much like the sensational “Drive My Car” was able to showcase when it debuted to audiences two years ago, Hamaguchi once again captures an endearing portrait of humanity that is effective in its presentation. The film opens with extended sequences of the surrounding wilderness, helping to emphasize just how tranquil such surroundings are and their value to these residents. Admittedly, the indulgence here gets a bit long in the tooth, and eventually, these extended scenes feel like they could be cut down. However, there is still an appreciation for how Hamaguchi frames these intimate excursions. He has a masterful ability to quietly observe the simplest interactions, to let the drama play out in a realistic fashion that allows it to be received with a more significant impact. His ability to craft quiet yet passionate displays of emotion makes him one of the great modern filmmakers.
There is also a richness in the text he creates as well. One could easily imagine the more pedestrian route that could be seen, with the ignorant outsiders coming to learn the easily digestible life lessons of the simple country folk. Thankfully, this screenplay is interested in far more nuanced arguments. Takumi is a good-natured man, but nothing about his existence is cast as saintly, either. He wants to defend his home and way of life, but for reasons that are simplistic and grounded within his own habits, for which he is not afraid to be aggressive when necessary. While Takashi and Mayuzumi grow to understand more about this community, their ability to change is not always meant to be seen sincerely. In fact, when the former takes a great interest in outdoor activity, it feels more patronizing to the locals. These complexities are necessarily abundant, but they are compelling in their conceit.
The film also features lovely performances from its ensemble, though it is notable that none really come across as particularly exceptional. Omika’s soft, reserved nature does fit within the overall tone, but the character also doesn’t have too many moments to leave a great impression. It’s a fine performance that suits the material without necessarily adding more. Kosaka is able to portray a captivating presence, almost an adorable oaf, in his vain and shallow attempts to reach a newfound enlightenment. Shibutani is the one who is the most impressive here. She is able to deliver a turn that is full of empathy, recognizing where her faults lie in ignorance despite her best intentions to improve. It’s the one major portrayal that digs a little further beneath the surface, and she is the highlight of this solid ensemble.
It’s difficult for the follow-up film of any director to reach the heights of something so strongly received right before. In that regard, “Evil Does Not Exist” does not quite measure up to the Oscar-winning masterpiece. At the same time, it is still an excellent example of Hamaguchi’s strengths as a storyteller. His fixation on the small interplay between individuals who harbor an abject truth about a grand philosophy makes for engrossing drama, and the performances present another great extension of this interest. Once again, easy answers aren’t always found, but just like in nature, it’s more about finding the state of tolerance, and getting to that point requires action that moves on to the very core.