Japan’s Hamaguchi revives himself with dark nature film

By Hanna Rantala

VENICE (Reuters) – Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi felt he needed a break after promoting two back-to-back hits, so he vanished into the Japanese countryside to make a new movie, “Evil Does Not Exist”, which premiered at Venice on Monday.

Hamaguchi won an Oscar for best international film with “Drive My Car” in 2022 and took the Grand Jury Prize at the 2021 Berlin Film Festival with his romantic drama “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy”, significantly boosting his international profile.

“I felt the need to rest and to recover from the promotional period, which really took its toll on me. I think that’s why I made this film,” Hamaguchi told Reuters ahead of the screening of “Evil Does Not Exist”.

“Making this movie was like a process of recovery for me and I feel very fortunate it also resulted in getting invited to a festival like this,” he said.

Few people even realised he was making the feature and its inclusion in the Venice line-up – the only Asian movie in the main competition – came as a total surprise to many.

The film shows what happens to a small, rural community when a Tokyo talent agency decides to build an upmarket glamping site in the nearby woods, threatening to contaminate the village water supply and disturb the balance of nature.

“What I found interesting was that this really happened and the plan and proposal were so sloppy that there was no way it would have ever worked,” Hamaguchi said.

The developers try to involve the local handyman, a single father raising an inquisitive young girl, in their ill-conceived project and a slow sense of doom gradually envelops the film, calling into question its very title.

“Where the title came from is really me watching and observing nature,” said Hamaguchi.

“There seems to be no evil there. But that’s not really the message of the film and I don’t think anyone watching the film will think that evil does not exist,” he said.

Hamaguchi brought much of his cast to Venice, including the young protagonist, who waved enthusiastically to photographers as she walked the famous red carpet.

The director said he had been due to come to Venice three years ago after “Wife of a Spy”, for which he wrote the screenplay, got selected. However, the COVID pandemic prevented him from attending.

“I can’t say this makes up for it, exactly, but I am very happy to get to come to this beautiful city this time around.”

(Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Nick Macfie)