Monster REVIEW – A Poignant Presentation of Perspective

A Hirokazu Kore-eda homecoming

Monster 2023
Monster 2023

Coming back to his native Japan for the first time since his Palme d’Or winner, Shoplifters, director Hirokazu Kore-eda returns with new drama, Monster. His latest film also marks the first time since his 1995 debut, Maborosi, that he’s directed a film he hasn’t written. Instead, the screenplay for Monster is penned by Yūji Sakamoto, and together the pair tell a touching coming-of-age story from three different, but closely-connected perspectives.

After concerned single-mother Saori (Sakura Andō) notices a change in the behaviour of her son, Minato (Sōya Kurokawa), she attempts to find out what’s caused this shift. Discovering that Minato’s teacher, Mr. Hori (Eita Nagayama), is responsible, she quickly alerts the school and seeks justice for her son. Developing the situation and story from here, Sakamoto’s screenplay repeats the same chain of events several times, but each time from a different character’s perspective: mother, teacher and student. But who’s the titular monster? Well, with Kore-eda at the helm, it’s hard to be immediately certain.

At first this structure risks hampering the film. Saori’s struggle to get to the bottom of the incident becomes frustrating to watch as it feels like Sakamoto is omitting too many important details in his script, ultimately, because he is. Eventually this drip feeding of detail does pay off, but the initial lack of clarity alongside the repetitive plot leaves Monster’s first act feeling, at times inaccessible and uninviting.

Thankfully, this is swiftly overcome with the arrival of the film’s second act. It almost takes on Monster’s own thoughtful themes of rebirth, as it flourishes into a reinvigorated story by approaching the events from another angle. As the overall structure starts to become clearer and the shift in focus allows the narrative more cohesion, Monster morphs into an intriguing mystery. This enigmatic energy is underpinned by the final score from the late Ryuichi Sakamoto. His composition offers the film a stirring musical accompaniment that channels an apt mystique, all while providing a tenderness that’s inherent to the film’s tone.

At the centre of the film’s mystery are two young students: the aforementioned Minato, and his classmate, Yori (Hinata Hiiragi). Both are portrayed by young actors in their very first roles, even if their respective performances would suggest otherwise. Kore-eda has a history of working with young actors and getting fantastic, naturalistic performances out of them, and with Monster, he’s done it again. Sōya Kurokawa impresses in particular, conveying Minato’s struggles with the cruel mixture of pain and uncertainty that he’s forced to endure especially well.

It’s a performance – much like the film’s narrative – that steadily evolves over the three act structure, gradually revealing more of Minato’s character and experience in a thoroughly compelling manner. Combined with Kore-eda’s fascinating use of perspective, which outlines just how easily events and actions can be misinterpreted or misunderstood, this performance and the unfolding narrative culminates in an emotionally gripping final act.

It’s here that the audience’s patience is really rewarded, as all the pieces of the puzzle finally click together and create the full picture. Although, by this stage the truth of Minato’s story is far more interesting than any intricacies of the plot. So while Monster does offer a satisfying explanation to its central conundrum, it is Minato’s more personal story that becomes its most engaging quality. Kore-eda’s ability to tell this story through such an absorbing and unlikely premise truly makes Monster one of his most accomplished films yet.

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Monster 2023
Hirokazu Kore-eda carefully crafts an intriguing and intricate exploration of perspective, making Monster both a compelling mystery and a compassionate coming-of-age story.