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(The 2023 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) runs September 7-17 and HtN has tons of coverage coming your way! Check out Matt Delman’s movie review of Evil Does Not Exist. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

Smaller in scope than Drive My Car but no less major, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Evil Does Not Exist is an unexpectedly funny and moving follow up to his Oscar-winning epic. Instead of the theater, we find our characters chopping wood in a remote forest village. Hamaguchi Is a master of dialogue, so it feels as though he’s testing himself by not utilizing any for the first thirty minutes. Eventually the sounds of nature are interrupted by a town hall, which is written in classic Hamaguchi style. The cast of characters emerge at this town hall, setting the stage for an epic standoff between the locals and a slick glamping business that threatens their way of life. Never before has the location of a septic tank earned more screen time. In Evil Does Not Exist, learning about people through a compelling debate makes for a rewarding cinematic experience.

Hamaguchi bookends the film by aiming his camera up at the trees. He lulls the viewer into the slow rhythms of country life, which had a few impatient festivalgoers headed for the exit. However, once we get to the town hall scene, the crowd was hooked. The glamping company sends two stooges to pitch their concept to the locals, who are (for the most part) politely concerned about the impacts it will have on their community. Each character’s personality shines through in this scene and the ones that follow, such as the odd-job, the chief elder, and the woman who moved from Tokyo to setup an Udon noodle shop.

Perhaps borrowing the style of his contemporary Jafar Panahi, Hamaguchi shoots frequently out of a moving car. Being in the countryside evokes a certain feeling that is captured by the camera of cinematographer Yoshio Kitagawa. Overall the acting aims for realism, though there is a goofy guy with glasses who gets some big laughs for his antagonism towards the glamping peddlers. That’s not to say the townspeople are without personality, in fact they feel lived in and three dimensional immediately. The one character that felt underwritten was the young daughter of the main character, which was a small role but plays into the climax of the film in a big way.

We worry about the environmental impacts of corporatizing and developing on sacred lands, but there must be a balance, and this film conveys that struggle. They want to build on a deer trail, but are the deer friendly? They mainly stay away from humans, unless they are ‘gut-shot’, or wounded from a hunter’s bullet. Conjuring Princess Mononoke, the creature production design by Masato Nunobe is inspired.

As the director of love tragicomedies The Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy and Drive My Car, we are expecting a lot from Hamaguchi, and luckily he delivers again. Perhaps the introvert in him retreated to the woods, to challenge himself to make something meaningful out of the mundane. Did you expect a Marvel movie? Hamaguchi is in his purest form with Evil Does Not Exist, another grand achievement for the master of conversation.

– Matthew Delman (@ItsTheRealDel)

2023 Toronto Film Festival; Ryusuke Hamaguchi; Evil Does Not Exist movie review

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Matt Delman is the Editor-at-large for Hammer to Nail, spearheading the redesign and relaunch of the site in January 2020. Delman has been a frequent contributor since 2015, with boots on the ground at film festivals across North America. He also runs a boutique digital marketing agency, 3rd Impression, that specializes in social media advertising for independent film. He was recently featured in Filmmaker Magazine for his innovative digital strategies.

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