MOVIES: Monster – Review

Monster is an angry, devastating film from Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda, one of the most humanist directors working in the business at the moment. Here; he takes charge of a multifaceted story that propels its way forward with the agency of a split narrative: we open with a building burning, a mother and a son watching from their apartment. The mother, Saori – sends her son, Minato, off to school – but it quickly becomes apparent that something is not right. He comes home shy, abrasive, and throws himself out of the car on a journey home from being found in the middle of a tunnel at night. Saori’s instinct is to blame Mr. Hori; his teacher – played by the calm but quick to anger Eita Nagayama – so rushes to school – only to be met with the stranglehold of bureaucracy. But it quickly becomes apparent that there is more than meets the eye to both Saori and Mr. Hori – and Minato is coming into his own, discovering his sense of self – we learn through all three chapters, each told from the perspective of these three characters – how perception and anger can unfold differently, and how these characters can react to the world that shaped them.

At its core the film shares a dynamic between two boys – Soya Kurokawa’s Minato and Hinata Hiiragi’s Yori. It’s skilfully acted by both involved as we’re forced to witness the horror that Yori must experience on a day-to-day life as a victim of bullying, unable to do anything about it – with Minato facing the choice between his friendship with Yori and the peer pressure of his classmates, who are ruthless to the both of them. The abject horror of what we cannot tear our eyes away from makes Monster a stark departure from even Shoplifters as Kore-eda lets his emotions get the better of him with a plea for acceptance and tolerance from all, no matter their age. Kids can be cruel – think Lukas Dhont’s emotionally charged Close, one of the best films of 2023 – for a similar comparison, and this film is just as devastating if not more so – a quiet bid for freedom symbolised by their escape in a train carriage that’s off its hinges. Themes of death, rebirth and reincarnation punctuate Monster – which has a quiet way of creeping up on you and making you cry when you least expect it. The film bluntly has its characters ask “Who’s the Monster?” – is it them, fighting for love in a world that doesn’t accept who they are? Is it a teacher? Is it the rest of society? There’s a lot of grand themes at play in Monster that are highlighted with understated nuance.

What a way to unfold the narrative – Monster at first sends you on a murder mystery, but quickly promises to be so much more. It’s a game of lies and misheard truths that aims for a Rashomon-style narrative – and succeeds so much because of this. Film of the year.

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