‘Evil Does Not Exist’ Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi Says ‘There’s Something’ to One Wild Theory About the Ending

“This idea was not something, to be honest, that had occurred to me,” the Oscar-winner tells TheWrap

Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Ryusuke Hamaguchi photographed by Kris Dewitte

Warning: Major plot details for “Evil Does Not Exist” are discussed below

Two years after winning the Best International Feature Oscar with his film “Drive My Car,” Ryusuke Hamaguchi is back in the U.S. with his fifth feature film, “Evil Does Not Exist,” a drama set in the woods of Japan that has left audiences around the world scratching their heads at its abrupt, violent ending.

The winner of the Venice Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize, “Evil Does Not Exist” follows Takumi, an quiet odd job worker who finds himself at the center of a conflict between the residents of his village and the developers of a proposed glamping site whose plans would contaminate the local water supply. What begins as a seemingly cut-and-dry conflict fueled by a greedy business starts developing more shades of grey before suddenly culminating in an act of violence by Takumi under the cover of dusk.

In an interview with TheWrap, Hamaguchi said he’s heard many intepretations of his ending, but the most interesting one he’s heard is a theory that Takumi is actually one of the deer that inhabits the village’s forests and which Takumi himself warns can become violent when shot by hunters.

“This idea was not something, to be honest, that had occurred to me,” Hamaguchi said. “But when I thought about it, Takumi in some sense is somebody who might be closer to the realm of nature than to humans. The more I pondered that interpretation of him being closer to the realm of nature than to humans, the more I thought there’s something to that.”

“Evil Does Not Exist” is now playing at the AMC Grove in Los Angeles and the Film Forum and Lincoln Center in New York. The interview with Hamaguchi below was conducted with a translator and has been edited lightly for clarity.

You show several scenes of Hana exploring the woods by herself and with her father. Did you have any experiences with nature growing up that influenced this?

I would say I’ve had little experience with walks through the woods. The nature that I was more accustomed to were parks ithin urban settings. In the first shot of the film, the perspective that we see is something that I encountered in my early 20s. I was walking through Ueno Park in Tokyo one winter and I was looking up just like in the film, and the trees were bare without leaves. I found it really interesting that the branches created these layers, and as I kept walking, and what I saw kept changing. Seeing that, I felt like I could watch this forever. It was such an interesting perspective for me that I knew I wanted to use this in a film in the future and I was finally able to do so with “Evil Does Not Exist.”

Evil Does Not Exist
Sideshow/Janus Films

Did that feeling that you can gaze at nature forever also influence the pacing of the film? This is a very deliberately paced film from start to finish.

Yes, I do believe that is related. What I wanted to do is to create that specific feeling that I felt when looking up at these trees. That’s what we see at the very beginning of the film and also through the first 10-15 minutes of the film. People are able to see how to discover things within these shots such as the small movements and gestures that can be seen within nature and discover the appeal of the land and the landscapes.

I think there’s a sense that the story suddenly starts with the town hall scene that takes place well into the film. It some ways it could feel like a boring scene. However, by acquiring this sensitivity to small, subtle movements from the opening scenes, I think people are able to perhaps see this town hall as being more fast paced or full of information. That was something that I was quite conscious in building through the pacing.

You also have several scenes where you allow the audience to settle into these long shots of nature, and then it abruptly cuts to the next scene in a very jarring way. What inspired that style of editing?

I have often preferred to have a smooth cutting for my films, but with this film in particular, I decided that I wanted to choose camera positions that would not work in the same way because ultimately where you position the camera can dictate how smoothly you’re able to cut and edit between scenes.

What I really wanted to do is to highlight each axis that exists within the film and so that really told me about the moments to cut. For example, if there is a person in the shot, but then that person walks out of frame, I think in some ways that’s naturally a good point to cut to something else. But with this film, we often cut with the person still in frame. I think that gives the sensation that we’ve caught the characters in the midst of something and that’s something that I wished for the film: to feel like we are observing people in the midst of their lives.

You have this very meditative, slow-paced approach to storytelling that seems to have really struck a lot of Western filmmakers, most notably when you placed the opening credits to “Drive My Car” around 40 minutes into the film. What has it been like for you seeing how your films have been received by a more global audience?

I’m looking back on “Drive My Car” ultimately as an adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s story. What I needed to do as a director was just soak into the world he created through his work, and I received a lot artistically from working in that world. In that sense, I feel that my name should not be brought up so often when it comes to the film’s success. I am grateful for the praise, but I feel like I was just rebuilding the world that he had already created. My next challenge is simply this: what happens when I am working with a story and a world that has not already been created?

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