However you view the events of Monster‘s first act is far from how they’ll appear after the film’s third. It’s a slow reveal from multiple perspectives from Shoplifters director Hirokazu Kore-eda, who returns with this exceptionally detailed and deeply moving drama, connecting individual versions of the same events to inform a broader, more complex picture.
Like his Palme D’Or winning 2018 film, Monster continues the Japanese director’s mastery of steadily revealed, subtle mysteries woven into the everyday lives of ordinary people, leading to devastating, joyous, and liberating pivots for the characters. It’s undeniably cliche to throw out an “everything is not what it seems”, but with Monster, it’s the whole point. Where Kore-eda examined themes of class and family in Shoplifters, he examines the power of perspective and context in Monster.
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Each act is beautifully accompanied by an emotional fluctuating score, delivered by the late composer Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Monster is his final work, as he died two months before its release. What is
Monster about?The premise for
Monster seems simple, but the rollout is anything but. Yuji Sakamoto, the Cannes best screenplay writer, presents three perspectives in three acts. He examines the events that unfold between an apartment fire a typhoon. The main characters first orbit the headline-making fire in their lives, and then their stories unfold at a local primary school. Saori Mugino, a widowed, single mother and laundry worker (Sakura Ando), becomes worried about her son Minato (Soya Kurokawa), when he begins to act erratically. Saori, who has been noticing these changes in her son’s behaviour, confronts Makiko Fushimi, the school principal. She also encounters Makiko’s (Yuko) closed-ranking tactic to divert responsibility. The truth about Minato’s experience becomes muddled after his classmate Yori (Hinata Hiiragi), who shows signs of bullying, becomes involved. SEE ALSO:
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As Minato’s sagacious and empathetic mother, Ando reflects the audience’s confusion over her son’s behavior and the school’s response to accusations — her repeated use of “what the fuck?” It is a deeply relatable story that almost becomes the inner monologue for the viewer. Saori’s complaint being dismissed by the school as a “misunderstanding”, is nothing short of infuriating. But it’s not the full picture, despite the facts at play.
is subtle masterpiece of perspective
Over the course of three acts,
Monster uses subtle markers to tilt the audience’s knowledge of events, showing how additional details can change the meaning and intention of someone’s actions. Minato’s bizarre decisions are given a nobler purpose when they are placed in context. The characters are often deemed guilty based on appearances. From an opposite perspective, what appears to be evidence of criminal behavior is actually a random event. Brass instruments resound through the multiple timelines. Kore-eda uses the differences between a child and adult perspective to great effect. Nagayama, who plays the teacher Hori with a polarizing personality, is equally compelling, as is Tanaka, the principal Fushimi, who is a bit of a mystery. The real stars are Kurokawa, Hiiragi and the youngest actors in the film. They play Minato as a seemingly troubled character and Yori who is delightfully whimsical. The film is centered around the assumptions, confusions and technicalities surrounding Minato’s and Yori’s relationship. And the young actors let their characters be vulnerable when it counts. The way parents, teachers and students see the world is very different. Ryuto Kodono’s cinematography captures the essence of each character. Whether lingering over Saori’s confused face as she tries to understand either her son or school board or running with Minato or Yori through the forest in a state of freedom and wonder, Ryuto’s cinematography is a delight. Sakamoto’s script captures perfectly the surrealistic imagination and bluntness of child’s conversation, beautifully performed by Kurokawa & Hiiragi. The topics are a fast-paced mix of butts, poop and the realities of everyday family life. And all the while, having seen where the story ends up every time in each act, you’re left in a deeply troubling place as an audience, suspecting what’s ahead with no ability to stop it.
However, whatever you believe is happening in Monster, whoever you think people are, there’s always more to the story. The film’s characters are much more complex than they appear in the film. They are often misunderstood and wrongly accused of being the monsters. If
doesn’t make you think twice about perspective, you might do to see things from another angle.
Monster was reviewed out of the BFI London Film Festival. The film is expected to hit theaters by late 2023 or early 2024.