Japan’s Ryusuke Hamaguchi on following his Oscar success

Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi made history with his Oscar-winning “Drive My Car”. For his follow-up, he has retreated into nature.

“Evil Does Not Exist”, which got its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Monday, has again impressed critics with its tale of a city-based corporation threatening a pristine rural village with a tourism project.

The movie came about when composer Eiko Ishibashi asked Hamaguchi to shoot footage in the remote region for some live performances.

It was well-timed for the director after the maelstrom around “Drive My Car”, which became the first Japanese film nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars in 2022 and won Best International Film.

“I really didn’t want to do anything for a while after the Oscars, but… this felt like something I could do,” the director told AFP in Venice.

“It’s not necessarily pressure that I felt — I just really needed a break!”

Not feeling qualified to shoot abstract images, Hamaguchi decided to write a story.

“I figured if she was asking me I should just do something that is true to myself so I started writing a script and making a film,” he said.

“I’ve only really lived in urban areas,” he added.

“Because I’m a city person I can talk about what it’s like for city people to enter these natural environments.”

The result is a gently-paced, but ultimately gripping and even shocking film.

The Guardian called it “an enigmatic eco-parable… teetering on the edge of the uncanny”.

The Hollywood Reporter’s critic said the “slow-burn drama builds its own hypnotic, changeable rhythms” and that the strange ending was like “a collision of disturbing dream and reality”.

That ending has left many at the festival scratching their heads, and Hamaguchi admits it baffles him, too.

“I’m not entirely sure whether I like this kind of ending or not,” he said. “But when I’m writing a script, I’m always interested in making sure it is not boring to me.

“This ending just naturally came out of me,” he added. “There’s something there that perhaps I can’t necessarily say in words but that feels right to me.”

What he likes most is showing the complexity of his characters.

“This is usually how I depict people — where it’s not necessarily black and white between evil and good,” he said.

“I think I’m often depicting people who perhaps do a terrible thing and yet there are actions and reasons behind it. And I think that’s something really important when I’m directing actors as well.”

“Evil Does Not Exist” is among 23 films competing for the top Golden Lion prize in Venice, to be decided on Saturday.