Written by: Ljiljana Maletin Vojvodić //

„Evil Does Not Exist“, an ecological family drama by Japanese director Ryu Hamaguchi, about the resistance that a local community offers to corporate „glamping“ tourism, which has been awarded at the London Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival, officially opened the 19th Free Zone (Slobodna zona) with screenings in Belgrade, Novi Sad, and Niš.

„Evil Does Not Exist.“ Photo: 2023 NEOPA Fictive

It is clear whose side the viewer is on while following the story of a traditional, isolated, and harmonious community threatened by a Tokyo company that, without regard for the environment or the lives of the local population, wants to create a „tourist hot spot“ among them – a glamorous campsite where wealthy city tourists can enjoy the „untouched“ nature. Because glamping is as natural and liberal as the feminism of middle-class white women. However, the author avoids painting the characters in black and white.

The film begins poetically, with images of nature, accompanied by the music of Eiko Ishibashi, who plays an important role, in the Oscar-winning film „Drive My Car.“ Then comes the arrival of company representatives from Tokyo who meet with the locals. It turns out that their glamorous camping will disrupt the eco-balance on which the lives of the local population rely. The biggest conflict arises over the placement of a septic tank. Although the corporate PR representatives initially only pretend to listen to the real concerns of the people of Mizubiki, they will later truly begin to show humanity, which, of course, their superiors do not possess. Still, they are not the focus of the story. Takahashi (Ryuji Kosaka) and Mayuzumi (Ayaka Shibutani), faced with the post-pandemic sense of seeking meaning, realize that they do not want to engage in a job where they only do the will of their bosses. They are not evil people, but they carry out the orders of those who are, which opens up new archetypal dilemmas about the relationship between good and evil, which, when it comes to work, has a specific weight when we talk about Japanese society still based on a work cult and principles of strict hierarchy.

Unlike them, the local worker Takumi (Hitoshi Omika) lives in harmony with nature and with his daughter Hana, whom he often „forgets“ to take to school, so the girl returns home through the forest, which she loves as much as her father, judging by a photograph of their once happy family, burdened by the loss of his wife and family trauma.

„Evil Does Not Exist.“ Photo: 2023 NEOPA Fictive

The end of the film brings a surprising twist. Or does it only appear surprising to someone unfamiliar with the philosophy of the locals in this Japanese province? The epilogue remains shrouded in both literal and metaphorical mist, and the ending seems open, or we would like it to be so that we can interpret it with a happy ending if we view it through our own imagological lens in which Japanese rituals of (self-)sacrifice and devotion to the collective, respect for the cycles and laws of nature are incomprehensible.


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