Monster (2023)

Lovingly detailed and accented by an aching score from Ryuichi Sakamoto, who died in March, “Monster” is one of the finest films of the year, and its structure — like its circle of characters — carries secrets that can only be unraveled through patience and empathy

Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda (“Broker,” “Shoplifters”) and written by Yuji Sakamoto, “Monster” opens as Minato (Soya Kurokawa), a sensitive preteen, begins fifth grade. His single mom, Saori (Sakura Ando), grows concerned when Minato comes home distressed and with injuries. She soon casts blame on his teacher, Hori (Eita Nagayama), who is fired over the accusation.

The action begins with a building burning to the ground, a dramatic blaze against the night sky, and this spectacular event makes a convenient starting point when the action is replayed. The building is the site of a sleazy hostess-bar, and a scandalous rumour runs around that local schoolteacher Mr Hori (Eita Nagayami) was one of the customers. Single mum Saori (Sakura Ando) has heard this tale and is thus perhaps already disposed to think ill of the man; her son Minato (Soya Kurokawa) then comes home from school saying that Mr Hori has humiliated him with a bizarre “pig brain” insult (or has Minato appropriated that insult from elsewhere?) and the teacher also appears to have hit him.

Furious Saori storms into the office of the principal (Yûko Tanaka) – a woman already almost catatonic with grief for a dead grandson – demanding an explanation, and the school attempts to fob her off with a bizarrely formal, legalistic apology, complete with bowing from Hori and three colleagues. This is an event so utterly insincere and irrelevant to her request for a clear explanation that Saori only becomes more livid. But then mumbling Mr Hori snaps, and tells her that Minato was bullying another child: sensitive, imaginative Eri (Hinata Hiiragi).

Monster isn’t about what it initially appears to be; the narrative peels away the diversionary misapprehensions until it arrives at its emotional kernel of truth, and the film offers us hope, not despair. The performances from Sakura Ando, Eita Nagayami and the boys have a calm frankness and integrity. As for the story itself, it is arguably a little contrived with a thicket of mystery that perhaps didn’t need to be so dense. But this is a film created with a great moral intelligence and humanity.

Monster is a movie that does not render up its meanings easily in general, and its repeated motif is to replay the same events from a different viewpoint; in another type of film this might deliver the smooth and gratifying narrative click of a twist-reveal falling into place, but here it has a way of raising more questions than answers. 

Kore-eda: sexual identity not the focus in film 'Monster'


    1. Release date: November 22, 2023 (USA)
      Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
      Cinematography: Ryuto Kondo
      Music by: Ryuichi Sakamoto

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