Monster (2023) (Kaibutsu)

Rumours, lies, cover-ups and maybe the truth – all are layers of the onion in the compelling Monster, directed by award-winning Hirokazu Koreeda, written by Yûji Sakamoto, with music by Ryuichi Sakamoto.

The truth will set you free?

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Who is the monster? There are no easy or comfortable answers in this film. Is it Mr Hori the teacher, the two 11-year-olds Minato and Yori, the anxious single mother Saori, the arrogant single father Kiyotaka, the strangely unmoved school principal Mrs Fushimi, or society itself? None of them seems to have all the information which would unlock the puzzle.

Monster is in three parts like Rashomon, each with a different point of view: the mother, the school teacher and Minato. But unlike Rashomon, the sections are not conflicting, they fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw, each one unpeeling another layer of the onion and bringing us closer to understanding, subverting our perceptions. Events which puzzled in one section (such as Minato frenzedly cutting off his hair) are made understandable in another part.

Each section starts with the same recognisable incident, showing the different locations and reactions of the main characters – the top stories of the neighbouring tower block containing a hostess bar blazing, with fire engines attending. How did the fire start? A typhoon later on creates drama and maybe tragedy.

Heteronormative widow Saori (Sakura Andô) suspects her only son Minato (Soya Kurokawa) is being bullied at school. She does not have all the information but believes she has, and she furiously demands an explanation. She gets a lack-lustre apology from the principal (Yûko Tanaka) and class teacher Mr Hori (Eita Nagayama), the school’s scapegoat. What has been happening to Minato’s classmate Yori (Hinata Hiiragi)? Everyone, child and adult, has their unspoken secrets. Monster slowly reveals that however young you are, you can be reborn by knowing how to be true to yourself (even if it’s an idyllic sunlit reincarnation fantasy). But there’s so much that’s ambiguous all the way through.

Koreeda has got wonderful performances from his young actors. Other than that, it’s best to know as little as possible in advance and don’t read any spoilers before watching this compelling film unfold before your eyes: make up your own mind.

Monster premiered in Cannes, where it won Best Screenplay and Queer Palme. It is released on 15 March 2024 in the UK.

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