Ryusuke Hamaguchi On Covertly Making His Venice Title ‘Evil Does Not Exist’ & Why Drive My Car Oscars Buzz Made Him “Sick Of Filmmaking”

When Venice head Alberto Barbera announced his competition lineup in July, he confessed that he and his selection team were surprised to see one submission in their database: a feature project by Japanese filmmaker Ryûsuke Hamaguchi. 

Hamaguchi had quietly returned to filmmaking following the international success of his last two features, Drive My Car, which won best screenplay at Cannes before winning the best international feature film Oscar, and Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, silver bear winner at Berlin. 

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The final product is Evil Does Not Exist, an enigmatic feature screening this evening on the Lido. 

Set deep in the forest of a rural Japanese village close to Tokyo, the pic follows Takumi and his daughter Hana, who, like generations before them, live a modest life according to the cycles and order of nature. One day, the village inhabitants become aware of a plan to build a glamping site near Takumi’s house offering city residents a comfortable “escape” to nature. When two company representatives from Tokyo arrive in the village to hold a meeting, it becomes clear that the project will have a negative impact on the local water supply, causing unrest. The agency’s mismatched intentions endanger both the ecological balance of the plateau and their way of life.

The project began as an experimental collaboration between Hamaguchi and Japanese musician Eiko Ishibashi, who composed the music for Drive My Car. The pic will go on to play the New York Film Fest after which Sideshow and Janus Films will release domestically.

Below, Hamaguchi talks to Deadline about why he decided to make Evil Does Not Exist off-the-grid, how his Oscars success with Drive My Car changed his view of the industry and made him “sick of filmmaking.” The filmmaker also breaks down the meaning behind his Venice title.

DEADLINE: Alberto Barbera said his selection team was surprised when they discovered you had submitted Evil Does Not Exist. No one knew you were making a feature. Was this by design?

RYUSUKE HAMAGUCHI: In some sense, yes, because I wasn’t sure I could do this. In some ways, the birth of this film is an accident. I was making a performance piece for Eiko Ishibashi. Once I started making the materials, however, I realized how great the actors were, so I turned it into a film. I didn’t know how or when this would happen, so I didn’t tell anyone about it. But when it was done, it was just in time to submit to Venice. 

DEADLINE: What are the origins of the story?

RYUSUKE HAMAGUCHI: Two years ago, Eiko approached me and asked if I could make some kind of imagery or footage that could accompany her music. We spoke a lot about what I could make. She sent me music, and I listened. We even thought of an idea where I could piece together scenes from classic films. None of these ideas stuck. And then I began to think that perhaps we could find something in the area near her home. That’s when we went out there and started to look at the different landscapes and think about script ideas. That was October 2022, and I finished writing the script in January. We were shooting in February and March.  

DEADLINE: How did you land on the title Evil Does Not Exist, and what does it mean?

HAMAGUCHI: These words came to me while I was looking at nature. It’s not necessarily to say that this is a message that the entire film is trying to say, nor is it reflective of what I think. Think of it more as a titling of a music piece. 

DEADLINE: There’s a strong ecological theme throughout the film. How did you land on this, and what are you trying to say?

HAMAGUCHI: The ecological theme came from my research of going out there and seeing the spaces. But I knew that I couldn’t just shoot nature. No matter how beautiful the landscapes might be, I didn’t feel it could be interesting enough to just point at the landscapes and shoot. I needed people in there to make it interesting. So, therefore, I needed a story. Also, when nature and human beings come together, ideas around ecology or the environment come out naturally. I didn’t necessarily want to talk about environmental issues through this film. In fact, the story that you see towards the beginning, where we see the talk happen about the glamping, is based on actual events I heard about. 

DEADLINE: You made this film fairly quickly after the Oscars success of Drive My Car. Did that win make it easier for you to make this film?

HAMAGUCHI: I don’t think I needed that experience to complete this film. This film is of a small-budget scale, like my past films. However, a part of me believes that without that time, I don’t know if I would have made this film. And the reason is that after going through that whole experience of the awards, I was very tired. A small part of me was sick of filmmaking. But at the end of the day, I have no other hobbies than watching cinema. So I watched a lot of movies, and the more I watched movies, the more I wanted to make a film. But I wanted to make something different. So Eiko’s offer gave me a helping hand to continue.

DEADLINE: Did you expect to have such international acclaim with Drive My Car and Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy? Did that international attention change how you view the industry?

HAMAGUCHI: Not at all. It was way bigger than what I expected. Far more people watched those films than I expected, and I’m very grateful for that. After those films, lots of people started coming up to me. That was a scary experience. Previously, I always needed to go after who I wanted to meet. But after this experience, people wanted to meet me. That gave me a lot of hesitation, and I think the result of not wanting to change my view about the industry is this film. I didn’t want a huge jump in my environment. So making this film is my way of recalibrating.

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