We got a rough one tonight, folks. But for a movie from Ryusuke Hamaguchi — he of Drive My Car fame — we should expect nothing less.

Evil Does Not Exist lays its scene in the tranquil forest village of Mizubiki, the kind of place where salt-of-the-earth rural folk make an honest living off the land. Inevitably, capitalist idiots come around with a plot to build a “glamping” (read: “glamorous camping”) site where other wealthy entitled idiots can stage corporate retreats and bring tourism cash to the region. I might add that the responsible capitalists have already committed to this project by purchasing the land, they want to get a head start on this while “glamping” is still a hot new trend, and there’s a rush to get government post-COVID subsidies before the deadline.

Surprising no one, this plan to get rich quick has a number of glaringly obvious problems. To start with, the planned septic tank has a lower capacity than the facility at large, which means that sewage runoff will inevitably contaminate the village’s water downstream. There’s also significant concern that the tourists might cause wildfires, especially if there won’t be enough staff to enforce the fire policies. Oh, and the site is sitting directly on top of a deer trail, there’s that to consider.

Basically put, this project is all about cutting corners and doing the bare minimum, cutting every possible cost in the interest of maximizing profits. Sure, it’ll bring in tourism dollars and government subsidies in the short term, but how much longer will people keep coming to the site after all the water’s polluted and the trees have all burned down? Though again, I can’t possibly stress enough that the company president (I’m so sorry I can’t confirm the character’s name or actor) does not give a fuck about anything other than cutting costs and making money. This whole process of informing the locals is only a charade and it’s only for the purpose of dealing with red tape.

To the film’s credit, they do a remarkable job exploring all the angles here. Yes, the filmmakers do everything possible to portray the “glamping” capitalists as greedy and reckless out-of-touch douchebags, but it’s also made clear that these characters are only as corrupt as the system they’re a part of. As implied by the title, none of these characters are evil, though quite a few are short-sighted and stupid.

There are a number of voices speaking up for the villagers, but our main protagonist would probably be Takumi (Hitoshi Omika). He’s a local woodcutter/forager/handyman who helps pretty much everyone around the village. Takumi is the kind of guy who keeps his own counsel and does his best to stay objective. Up until he finally takes action in the climax, which is appropriately shocking.

In between the villagers and the vultures are Takahashi and Mayazumi, respectively played by Ryuji Kosaka and Ayaka Shibutani. These two are talent agents. They know nothing about “glamping”, they know nothing about ecology or economics, they know nothing about the village, they have no authority or expertise with regards to this construction project, they have no business whatsoever being here. But they’re attractive and charismatic, so they’re hired to be the corporate mouthpieces sent out to talk with the villagers and do the bare minimum to make it look like the locals’ complaints are being taken seriously. Sure, it’d be great if the mouthpieces somehow managed to get the villagers on board, but they really only need to do enough that the PTB can tell the government “Hey, we tried. Now give us the pandemic subsidies.”

To their credit, Takahashi and Mayazumi have enough of a guilty conscience (browbeaten into them by the villagers, I might add) that they go to Takumi in search of a viable compromise. It doesn’t end well. I’m honestly not sure exactly how it ends, but I know for damn sure it doesn’t end well.

At this point, I have to make it emphatically clear that this film is glacially paced. There’s maybe ten minutes of plot in this 100-minute movie and the runtime feels like ten hours. But on the other hand, so much of this movie is about contrasting nature with urban living. As such, the languid pace of all the overlong nature shots — in contrast with the high-speed pace of urban living — might be considered a crucial thematic point.

But then we have the ending. The “wow” finish that comes right the hell out of nowhere and refuses to explicitly resolve anything. Yes, I’m afraid this is one of those endings that leaves most of the heavy lifting to the audience.

Then again, this is a movie that sets out to take a measured and balanced examination of environmentalism. Yes, it’s unambiguously clear as to what should happen, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how or whether it actually will. And I don’t know that it would’ve made for as powerful or provocative a film if those answers had been made clear.

Evil Does Not Exist is tricky to judge. Yes, the pacing is torturously slow, and the ambiguity of that ending is deeply frustrating. On the other hand, I don’t know that the movie would’ve been as interesting or as thought-provoking if those hadn’t been factors. Even so, the film makes its point aggressively clear and with comprehensive detail. And of course the breathtaking photography goes a long way.

This is such a demanding movie that I have a difficult time recommending it for anyone but the most dedicated arthouse cinephiles. But if you’re up for a challenge and you’re not afraid of more highbrow fare, give it a shot.

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