Monster Image


By Sumner Forbes | March 28, 2024

What is a monster? I mean, sure, we know the traditional definition, but in the films of Hirokazu Kore-eda, it has to mean something a little more. It’s never easy to fit neatly within the confines of societal expectations, and his films always serve to humanize those “monsters” that do happen to do things a little differently than the rest of Japanese society. 2023’s Monster continues that trend, and while it lacks the complexity and biting critique of contemporary Japan inherent in his classic films like Shoplifters and Still Walking, it still delivers on the promise of his impressive track record.

Minato (Soya Kurokawa) is having a hard time. He lives with his mother, Saori (Sakura Ando), a young widow struggling with her role as a mother of an adolescent. His behavior is becoming increasingly erratic, and it comes to light he’s had some run-ins with his teacher, Hori (Eita Nagayama). Enraged at the potential abuse of her son, Saori seeks to make the school pay for its perceived malfeasance. Of course, nothing is quite so simple, and the film’s structure provides shifting points of view that bring new revelations for each party involved in the scandal. Later, the friendship between Minato and his friend Yori (Hinata Hiiragi) further complicates our notions of what actually happened.

“Enraged at the potential abuse of her son, Saori seeks to make the school pay…”

All of the main characters struggle to operate within the boxes society has imposed. Hori, the teacher, is a victim of circumstance and hearsay caught within the cogs of the educational system. Minato is a young boy scrutinized for his seemingly reckless behavior, and Yori runs against the expectations of how a young boy should interact with those around him. The performances are uniformly great, and nearly every character has layers of nuance that are gradually peeled off as we progress through the events behind the conflict. This interconnectedness is classic Kore-eda, but it’s harder to extrapolate a grander statement about modernity this time as in some of his more accomplished films like Still Walking.

At its center, Monster is an affecting movie about misunderstandings and finding one’s place in the world. Kore-eda’s films are known as much for their sentimentality as their social critiques, and this is no different. That’s not necessarily negative, but it’s hard not to hear the mournful piano soundtrack (scored by the late Ryuichi Sakamoto) accompanying the tender moments and think that we’ve been down this road before with Kore-Eda. It’s still worthy of the journey, though, because of the craft. The saccharine tendencies are just who he is as a filmmaker ­– take it or leave it.

Monster stands as middle-tier Kore-eda. It’s a touching tale about childhood and emotional development in a relatively rigid society. Still, it’s never anything more, nor does it push the boundaries of what we should expect from the seasoned filmmaker. It may be his own fault for setting the bar so high with his last few films, to the point that Monster feels like a side-project or afterthought within a larger oeuvre. But if something this poignant is an addendum, then we know we’re watching a special filmmaker.

Monster (2023)

Directed: Hirokazu Kore-Eda

Written: Yuji Sakamoto

Starring: Sakura Andô, Eita Nagayama, Soya Kurokawa, Hinata Hiiragi, etc.

Movie score: 7.5/10

Monster Image

"…a touching tale about childhood and emotional development..."

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join our Film Threat Newsletter

Newsletter Icon