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Hamaguchi’s “Evil Does Not Exist” Is a Haunting Portrait of a Small Town Under Threat

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. The move seems to have worked as his latest work, “Evil Does Not Exist,” premiered at Venice on Monday to a standing ovation that lasted more than seven minutes. The sequel to the Oscar-winning “Drive My Car” follows the director’s experiences as a filmmaker after Japan’s economic collapse.

“When I made the film, my biggest goal was to make a film that would show the people of Japan in their true colors,” Hamaguchi told reporters at the premiere on Monday. He said he was happy that the film has resonated with viewers worldwide. “I hope that more people will see the movie, not only in Japan but also in countries affected by the financial crisis,” he said.

A former journalist, Hamaguchi first came to prominence with his 2008 drama “Drive My Car,” which starred actresses Kotone Furukawa and Kumiko Kashiwagi as sisters in an abusive relationship. It went on to win an Oscar for Best International Film in 2022 and significantly boost his international profile. It also made him the first Japanese director to win the top prize at a major international film festival.

Hamaguchi, born in the Tokyo metropolitan area and studying film at Keio University, is known for his innovative directing technique. He has his actors read their lines repeatedly with no emotions until they create their characters, then asks them to play the scene with emotions for a take. He says it allows them to unleash their full potential and reveals the subtlety of their performances.

The director’s latest movie focuses on three women with different stories but shares the same emotional burden and relief theme. He expertly guides his complex female protagonists through a journey of redemption and epiphany, with the intimate conversations between them playing out like poetry on the screen. The three stories range from awkwardly funny conflicts to deeply moving embraces. The film’s underlying message is that a person’s life is meaningful, no matter how tragic or ordinary it may seem at the time.

As well as Hamaguchi, many other prominent directors attend the Venice Film Festival. They include Cannes prizewinners Bong Joon-ho for Parasite and Chloe Zhao for Nomadland; Berlinale winner Hong Sang-soo with his couples dramas In Front of Your Face and Introduction; and German director Maria Speth with her documentary Mr. Bachmann and His Class, about an empathetic teacher who tries to make a group of diverse pupils feel at home in the city of Stadtallendorf.

M-appeal sales on the eve of the festival for Wheel Of Fortune And Fantasy to French arthouse outfit Diaphana, GreenNarae Media in Korea, and Andrews Films in Taiwan; and Mr Bachmann and His Class to several other international buyers, including Leopardo Filmes in Portugal and Caramel in France.

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