Eiko Ishibashi

Evil Does Not Exist

Drag City

The score for Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s award-winning 2023 film is as subtly bewitching as the movie itself

The power of Eiko Ishibashi’s work as a film composer lies in its subtlety. In an era of overly bombastic and sentimental film scores, Ishibashi’s music is refreshingly nuanced, never explicitly telling the viewer how they need to react to any given scene. Ishibashi’s score for Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Evil Does Not Exist – her second time working with the director, after 2021’s Drive My Car – is both tense and remarkably open, always maintaining a sense of mystery in its melancholy.

All of Ishibashi’s music is informed by the aesthetics of film, including non-soundtrack works such as 2021’s For McCoy. Her music is defined by its sense of storytelling, with different sonic elements, such as layered flutes and muted electronics, occupying the kind of space that characters and narrative arcs would take in a film. And like the best film characters, these sonic elements shine in the obliqueness and complexity of their emotional content.

A number of motifs reappear throughout the record, from the swelling strings to Ishibashi’s soft piano and, perhaps most memorably, Tatsuhisa Yamamoto’s propulsive drumming. The score opens with an atmospheric, Talk Talk-esque intro that quickly gives way to the main theme of the film. The strings swell emotionally, but there’s a strange distance to them, sounding as if they are mourning the unknown. On ‘Smoke’, Yamamoto’s drum rhythms build into a Terje Rypdal-esque ECM jam before cutting off abruptly. The next track, ‘Deer Blood’, is one of the most memorable on the album. The track starts out with an ominous contrapuntal string melody and then layers upon itself, in a post-minimalist fashion. The end result sounds almost eerily beautiful.

Though Ishibashi has been creating scores for films and plays long before Drive My Car and Evil Does Not Exist, there is clearly a great mutual appreciation between the two artists. Evil Does Not Exist emerged, in part, from visuals Hamaguchi had created for Ishibashi’s live performances, flipping the traditional film composer roles. That mutual appreciation for craft is clear in the Evil Does Not Exist, put together with all the care and attention to detail required of a film itself. Amidst the mysteriousness of this music is a deeply human sentiment. The music evolves over the course of the soundtrack just as characters evolve throughout a film, and as the viewer evolves in viewing a film. And, relatedly, the music rewards multiple listens, with different emotional subtleties emerging in each one.

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