Evil Does Not Exist

Evil Does Not Exist ★★★★★

ZFF 2023 #24

Downstream effects. Hamaguchi takes his slow, deliberate way of letting characters and stories reveal themselves through patiently observed rituals and everyday conversations out of the city and into the countryside, in order to reflect on the genuine human complexity that lies at the heart of environmental conservation and the inherently predatory nature of "progress." Arguably the key moment here – apart from the village elder's speech at the town meeting that's both metaphorical and painfully literal – is Takumi noting that the area that's about to be changed forever by a glamping site has only been inhabited by people for 70-odd years, as it raises the question where we draw the line between a tradition worth protecting and a mutable habit.

The title is by no means an exaggeration: through its clever structure – which sets up the village as the forest idyll about to be ravaged by capital, only to humanise (but not romanticise) the corporate drones in a way that suggests their shallowness might not actually be cynicism but them trying their best – Evil Does Not Exist underscores the futility of allocating individual blame for systemic injustice. However, realising this does little to combat the problem, so the notion that "evil does not exist" is functionally useless, just as the suits' apparent change of heart is a wholly inadequate response to the threat they symbolise: the village in its current form is still doomed.

Hence the startling, seemingly incongruous ending. Against the backdrop of the conflict the film lays out, all rationalisation goes out the window and the process fast-forwards to its primal endpoint (heralded by the shots of the river going downstream that precede the climax): the threat is imminent and any action, even an ultimately pointless and disproportionate one that concludes with nature besting humanity, seems more productive than inaction. Ending this story on a note like this in an era of runaway climate change is nothing if not à propos.

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