Latest Posts

A Conversation with Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (EVIL DOES NOT EXIST)

Japanese director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi has been making films since the first decade of the 21st century, and began his rise to international prominence with the 2015 Happy Hour. In 2022, his Drive My Car won the Oscar for Best International Feature Film (he released two movies in 2021 – that one and also Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy). He has a new feature, Evil Does Not Exist, which premiered at the 2023 Venice International Film Festival. A few days later, Matt Delman and I saw it in Toronto (where he reviewed it for us).

Set mostly in the mountains around Nagano, Japan, it follows the tale of single father Takumi (Hitoshi Omika) and his 8-year-old daughter Hana (Ryo Nishikawa), as well as of the residents of their woodland community. There’s a threat to the area’s peace and quiet (and ecological stability) in the form of a Tokyo-based company that wants to develop a “glamping” (as in “glamorous” + “camping”) resort in the middle of the forest. Takumi, the local handyman, offers quiet but firm resistance to the idea.

The joys of the movie come from the many silences, interrupted by long dialogue-filled scenes that combine pathos and comedy. The former include moments between father and daughter as they explore the mostly pristine forests of their mountainous corner of Japan; the latter showcase a series of awkward conversations between different groups of characters where the director (also the co-writer) explores the conflicts within the human animal. All of it is punctuated by composer Eiko Ishibashi’s gently evocative score.

I recently had a chance to speak with Hamaguchi just before the start of Evil Does Not Exist’s American rollout. We communicated via an interpreter (who was excellent in every way). What follows is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Hammer to Nail: Have you ever been glamping, or is actual camping more your thing?

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi: I’ve never done either.

HtN: Which one would you rather try? Glamping or camping?

RH: I have nothing really against glamping, per se, so perhaps it would be OK to experience it once.

HtN: What does the title “Evil Does Not Exist” signify to you? What is your intent with it?

RH: Originally it came about when I was thinking about different ways to say “nature.” The companion film, Gift, a twin piece that came about with Evil Does Not Exist, offers another way to say nature, too. And that’s really because natural landscapes are so important to these films, ultimately. Eiko Ishibashi first brought up this project, and I needed to think about how I could create something that will harmonize very well with her music, and what kinds of motifs would work. And that led me to look at the nature that surrounded her work studio, her music studio, and seeing that, I realized that this would be a main motif.

I looked out and it was a wintry natural landscape. There were barely any people around. It was minus 10 degrees Celsius out there, which means that people, if they stayed out there for too many hours, could freeze. And so in some ways it presented a kind of danger that existed, but of course there’s no evil intention there. And so I think in thinking about different ways to say nature, I just naturally came to these terms.

HtN: Have there been, in Japan, any specific recent conflicts between rural and urban forces that you are directly referencing, or is this story just from your own head?


RH: There’s no big news event that I’m necessarily referencing regarding this film, but I did a lot of research, and I did learn about a very similar incident to what you see in the film, of a town-hall explanation about glamping. And that was something that happened in the actual location where we were shooting, and so I went out to hear more about it. And when I heard more about what actually happened, it really made me think of how contemporary this story is, and so I really tried to rebuild that and recreate that quite close to what actually happened.

HtN: Your lead actor, Hitoshi Omika, who plays Takumi, was the Assistant Director on Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy. And based on the work he’s done, he’s usually more behind the camera than in front of it. How did you work with him to create this wonderfully naturalistic performance?

RH: I think actually watching him work gave me a lot of surprises about his ability. Perhaps there has always been this hidden talent inside him. And in fact, he actually appears very briefly in Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, where he plays a very different role. So that makes apparent that he in fact has a lot of talent in this area.

But as you mentioned, he didn’t have much experience being on camera, and so maybe he did have some wary feelings about acting. So we did do a lot of preparation to get rid of that fear, and we did a lot of readings to make it more natural for him to be able to act. I also gave him what I call “subtext,” which is something that I do with all my films where I give to the actor a sort of fictitious interview where questions are asked of the character and the character responds to these questions.

But I think one other big experience for him was perhaps practicing chopping wood. That might have been significant for him. There was a time where I needed to go back to the city to prepare for production, and during that time he stayed and was taught how to chop wood by the locals there (of course not by me). And after those few days where I was away, I found him to be brilliant at chopping wood. So, there’s another talent there.

HtN: Speaking of people without a lot of acting experience, how did you work with Ryo Nishikawa, the young girl who plays Hana, Takumi’s daughter?

RH: It had been a while for me since I had directed a child actor. The first scene that we shot with her was her looking up at the trees, in the beginning, where she looks up and breathes out, and then she jumps off the tree stump. When we were shooting that, I asked her to climb up the tree and then I said, ‘You’ll probably feel something or think something, and once you do think something, just jump off the tree.” And that’s just what I asked, and she did exactly that. I think some thought came to her mind and then she moved. And what she did in that moment to me was really wonderful, so it became sort of the base of how I directed and worked with her. What I tried to do is to create situations where she could be in that situation and think and be able to move in these spaces, and to be able to have her be able to have her own thoughts and think in these moments, and for that to be able to be shown within the film.

A still from

HtN: Let’s go back to the town hall you mentioned. Your version of that is my favorite scene in the film, where what starts as a polite conversation eventually turns quite contentious. Many of your takes are long; in general, you seem to favor very long takes here. How much time did you spend both rehearsing and filming this scene?

RH: We did readings with the people who had dialogue in that scene, and we did that over a course of a few days. But even though I say a few days, I mean we had about an hour, or two hours, per day over the course of a few days. Regarding the filming, we had two days to shoot and we shot while there was light outside, and there was enough time to also do rehearsals during those two days, as well. With the shooting, we had Yoshio Kitagawa, who is the Director of Photography [DP] for this film, but then also had Yukiko Iioka, who was the DP for Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, come in for this scene, as well. We had two cameras set up, and over the course of two days in total we had 10 takes. We ran it almost as a play where the actors had five shows per day over the course of two days, and we had the cameras then capture that.

HtN: You have a very close working relationship with your composer, Eiko Ishibashi, with whom you made that parallel project you mentioned, Gift. And you also worked with her on Drive My Car. I love the soundtrack to this film. What did you ask her to think about as she was creating this movie’s score?

RH: What I specifically said to her was not too much, especially regarding this project, because the main aim for this project in particular was to create visuals for her music. And so in some sense, compared to other ways that we have worked, our relationship had flipped. So it was me in fact thinking more about her music and what kind of visuals would work well with her music. And I know her music really has a sense of subtlety; each piece of sound expresses subtle emotions, and her music also does not have very clear conclusions, and I think these elements also appear and become present in the resulting film, as well.

And as for the main theme song that we hear repeatedly throughout the film, and also at the beginning, this was created after the film was edited. What she created was really wonderful. And I think what was so wonderful about it was that it was able to express the potential that existed within the image and was able to express that to the audience. And in listening to it, it really confirmed to me that what we had done was not wrong. And so I didn’t really go about telling her anything of what she needs to do, but rather it was a very specific exchange between image and music that we did back and forth.

HtN: Thank you so much for talking to me.

RH: Thank you.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

Liked it? Take a second to support Hammer to Nail on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

Post a Comment

Website branding logosWebsite branding logos