Watching Hirokazu Kore-eda movies is to experience graceful cinematic dances between hope and despair.
His filmography consists of masterfully crafted emotional epics where joy and sadness ebb and flow like the evening tide.
If you’re hoping for sugary-sweet feel-good dramas, this isn’t the filmmaker for you. Kore-eda’s bittersweet and morally complex melodramas delve into uncomfortable truths to chronicle the limits of human resilience.
It isn’t easy to describe the story without revealing what Kore-eda is attempting to do. I’ll avoid major spoilers, but consider yourself warned.
At first, the story centres on a young boy named Minato (Soya Kurokawa). His odd and sullen behaviour has started to worry his single mother, Saori (Sakura Ando). She doesn’t know whether Minato is still grief-stricken by his father’s death or if there’s some insidious outside force at play.
When Minato comes home from school with physical injuries, Saori suspects her son’s awkward teacher, Hori (Eita Nagayama), is the bully. However, after blaming Hori, it becomes apparent that Minato is the bully, taking his frustration out on a smaller boy named Eri (Hinata Hiiragi). Or is he?
Each segment of the story revisits the same set of events but from different characters’ perspectives.
Screenwriter Yûji Sakamoto deploys a Rashomon-style unreliable narrative to play with viewers like a cat batting around a stuffed toy.
The screenplay weaves disparate plot threads together so that it can pull the rug out from beneath you in the final moments. While I appreciate what the film’s going for, I found this plot-heavy approach too dense and methodical.
While I appreciate the film’s ambition, the plot-heavy structure turned my viewing into Monster is a cerebral exercise rather than a visceral experience.
Kore-eda spends so much time implementing intricate plot mechanics that the big emotional reveal hit too late in the film and ultimately feels contrived.
When the convoluted narrative sags, the actors, cinematography and score pick up the slack. The whole ensemble delivers award-worthy performances across the board, unveiling new layers to their characters with each progressive chapter. Notably, Kore-eda once again coaxes superb performances from his child actors.
Ryûto Kondô’s observant lens beautifully captures the cast’s nuanced performances, while the late Ryuichi Sakamoto’s soul-stirring score evokes both heart-stopping tension and childlike wonder.
The film’s title, Monster, comes with certain expectations. So early on, when the film seems to be about bullying, you think you know where the story is headed before it flips your assumptions on their head.
What begins as a harrowing emotional thriller about bullying, casting judgment, and cancel culture evolves into a compassionate act of self-reflection.
Each new chapter in the film brings new dimensions to the story and the characters inhabiting it. Every reveal forces the viewer to turn a spotlight inward and question how they were misled.
Monster’s themes are an indictment against cancel culture, challenging our tendency to condemn others as monsters based on snap judgments. The film asks us to question why we label people as monsters before we even try to understand them. It also asks us to consider if we’re even capable of recognizing the limits of our own perceptions.
Those are some heavy questions with no easy answers, and it’s not Kore-eda’s responsibility to solve them. A great artist puts these ideas out there for the viewer to wrestle with and (hopefully) engage in self-reflection.
Monster is a thoughtful, beautifully photographed, and bittersweet drama about casting judgment, self-acceptance, and our deep-seated desire to experience meaningful connections.
Kore-eda once again takes his audience on a profound emotional journey that leaves viewers both shattered and inspired.