Monster Reviewed: Kore-eda Hirokazu’s Hidden Plea for Acceptance Amidst Shadows!

The Japanese artist Kore-eda Hirokazu has established himself as one of the medium’s most humanitarian directors, prone to see the best in people, especially children, in movies like “Nobody Knows” and “Shoplifters,” among others. So how do we balance the emotions “Monster” evokes in us?

After directing two rather unimpressive films outside of his native Japan (“Broker” and “The Truth”), the 2018 Palme d’Or winner opens his most recent Cannes competition entry with a burning building — a “hostess bar” where lonely men seek out female company — and fifth-grader Minato (Kurokawa Soya) watching the blaze from a nearby balcony.

Before discovering who started the fire, Kore-eda returns to this scenario thrice throughout the movie, folding the story back upon itself from a new perspective each time.

For a while, the title deceives us by encouraging us to make assumptions about the evil that envelops young Minato. Could a kid have committed the crime? What qualifies as a “monster”? What makes the fact that an 11-year-old would give himself such a moniker even more concerning?

As Kore-eda creates a shifting and occasionally challenging portrait of a troubled youngster, his lone mother Saori (Ando Sakura), eccentric teacher Mr. Hori, and other characters, (Nagayama Eita), and various other characters, each one proves to be far more complex and unknowable than we might first assume, we are left with those questions and a hundred others.

When Minato’s behavior is ultimately explained, it comes as a surprise but ties up many other loose ends in the film. Except for one: Why did Kore-eda decide to convey this specific narrative in a complicated manner? The author almost forces us to draw the wrong conclusions by only giving us a tiny glimpse into each character’s life.

He also diverts our attention to issues like bullying, aggression, and suicide when the real problem is how children are socialized and the unfair pressures this places on anyone who doesn’t fit the mold, which is much simpler than any of the intriguing details teased along the way.

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It is hinted that Minato harbors affection for Yori (Hiiragi Hinata), a student in his class, somewhat late in the movie. His inability to deal with those feelings causes the most confusion, exacerbated by the nonlinear framework created by scriptwriter Sakamoto Yuji.

Considering that “Monster” shows Minato’s position from his mother’s perspective in the first section, we are prompted to believe something much more evil. She tries her best to nurture her kid after the death of her husband and is a reasonably attentive parent.

Still, even she fails to notice the warning signs, such as a disturbing television commercial that mirrors the insults Minato receives at school.

Saori schedules a meeting with the school principal (Tanaka Yuko) when she finally senses something is awry. Saori demands to know what kind of school allows a teacher to abuse and hit the pupils because she believes Minato when he says that Mr. Hori is to blame for how he feels.

Monster Reviewed

Saori’s heart (and ours) slightly breaks as she hears her son claim, “My brain was switched with a pig’s,” while one of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s final songs underlines her anxiety.

Obviously, someone must have given Minato the idea, but at this point, we simply don’t know enough to understand his angst. The spiteful remark about a “pig’s brain” eventually has a background character who is rarely seen.

The problem is that Minato thinks it about himself, and his concern about being exposed causes him to distance himself from Yori. This issue was previously explored in last year’s Cannes standout, “Close.”

The idea that some children may recognize when they are not wired the same as their peers at a very young age is not well addressed in either movie. Identifying as such will continue to be exceedingly challenging as long as prepubescent queerness is such a sensitive topic.

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About 45 minutes into the movie, Kore-eda lets us believe that Minato has suffered a tragic accident during a typhoon before resetting the chronology and switching to Mr. Hori’s point of view once more.

Although the events themselves don’t alter, the method has a “Rashomon” feel to it because Kore-eda shows how simple it is to draw incorrect assumptions about other people (especially when one is led to do so by a deceitful screenplay). We quickly conclude that Minato misleads his mother.

As Mr. Hori taunts his students with questions like “Are you a real man?” It’s not entirely clear in “Monster” why the young child would have lied, although it does assign them essays to write about the people they want to marry when they grow up.

In the third and last repetition, Kore-eda goes back and plays everything again, this time with a more omniscient awareness of the motivations of his characters. We discover that the school principal, whom Saori saw trip a boisterous child at the neighborhood grocery store, has a terrible secret of her own.

The saddest part in the movie is when Minato confides in her and she reassures him that “Happiness is something anyone can have.” From this point forward, “Monster” stops playing tricks on us and shares its message.

When the typhoon strikes the town a third time, the sun comes out rather than implying that the boy might be at risk of self-harm or drowning. The same is true of Minato’s secret. While “Monster” may have had a disastrous ending, Kore-eda’s humanist inclination has been at work the entire time.

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