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Monster

Released 2023. Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

MONSTER MAY WELL BE the year’s most confounding depiction of inscrutable human behaviour. The new movie from renowned director Hirokazu Kore-eda weaves together events in a small Japanese town in a story about secrets and misconceptions told from three perspectives. On its own, each viewpoint is limited and even misleading. Together they shed light on the effect of reticence and judgement, friendship and trust, and how in their own way everyone is simply trying to do the right thing they see fit.

The story starts with a building on fire and ends when the town is lashed by a typhoon. Between the two calamities are episodes of woe brought on completely by human action. Widowed mother Saori is concerned about the change in her son Minato’s behaviour. The fifth-grader has grown withdrawn and cagey. He talks about transplanting pig’s brain into a human and snips clutches of his hair for no apparent reason. When he comes home with injuries and bruises, Saori suspects her son is being abused by his teacher Mr Hori. When Saori goes to the school to seek answers, the headmistress, the faculty and Mr Hori insist it’s a misunderstanding and offer an insincere apology. The headmistress doesn’t even make eye contact with Saori and Mr Hori is hardly contrite.

Mr Hori, a loner teased by his students for having a bar hostess as a girlfriend, feels he’s been press-ganged by the school into admitting fault. He thought Minato was bullying fellow student Yori and was trying to control Minato’s disruptive behaviour in class. Instead, The accusations cost Mr Hori his job and privacy and the disgraced teacher is hounded by the local media eager for a scandal.

At school, Minato succumbs to peer pressure to pick on defenceless classmate Yori. By themselves, however, the two boys get on well and become confidants, spending their time together exploring the countryside and turning an abandoned railcar into their private refuge from adults. The day the typhoon arrives, Minato disappears from home.

All this time, the headmistress is hiding a family secret as she continues to put the school’s reputation and her students’ prospects as top priority. Any personal matter, including her own, mustn’t get in the way.

Each viewpoint—Saori, Mr Hori, Minato—is subjective and offer only circumstantial information. The movie vividly demonstrates how we often form opinions and perhaps unfair character assessments when we don’t have a fuller picture. The characters themselves don't always fathom the behaviour of others. Cultural, generational and social barriers hinder honest and open communications.

The script by Yuji Sakamoto (Best Screenplay winner at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival) unfolds the intersecting moments organically, taking its time to build and reveal, sometimes to a startling effect. As the perspectives dovetail from different angles, Kore-eda, who also takes on the role as film editor, keeps a firm grip on the underlying emotional current. We come to realise that a series of disparate moments can no longer be disentangled in a complex story examining human nature to protect, defend and make sacrifices, rightly or otherwise.

Once again, Kore-eda has crafted another cinematic gem brimming with compassion and empathy focusing on the welfare of children. If you’ve seen Nobody Knows, Like Father Like Son, Shoplifters and most recently, Broker, Monster belongs in the same category, a wonderfully astute and affecting dive into the ties that bind in the family and community, always with the best interest of the child at its heart.

Monster has been described as Rashomon-esque in its approach to a series of events examined from different perspectives. But it is not about whom to believe because everything that transpires is the truth. It’s about how we interpret limited information when people are looking for someone to blame, and how we can be led astray when what we understand is incomplete, and how even truth itself can be biased in a subjective reality.


Click image to view trailer. New window will open.




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