Monster (2023)

Written by:
Paula Farmer
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Who is the monster in any highly-charged random scenario? In the case of Kore-eda Hirokazu’s latest film, “Monster,” it could be any one of us or none of us. Is it the bully at school or the new teacher who disciplines him? Maybe it’s the stoic school principal or an abusive single parent. Who can judge and who gets to exact revenge? ‘Monster’ ask these questions and more after tempers flare in a grade school class setting and an irrevocable series of events are unleashed. He explores how one incident can impact so many people’s lives, the power of perspective and the importance of context.

When a common classroom clash between two students- Yori and Minato- breaks out at a school in a small lakeside town, Minato is physically and emotionally impacted. By whom, why and how is not necessarily clear. Minato’s mother is convinced her son was hit by the disciplining teacher and vehemently takes the matter up with the principal, the teacher and other officials. She is dissatisfied with their initial offer of an official apology, and accuses the principal of being cold hearted and inhumane. To her, more must be done despite the revelation that the students, along with the teacher have differing claims about what exactly happened. Additionally, all their relationships and motives may not be as it appears. Similar situations of classroom eruptions is probably replicated throughout schools everywhere everyday. This particular seemingly benign incident gradually mushrooms into so much more. Soon, the school board, the community and the media are involved, armed with opinions, criticisms and judgements.

So sets the film’s premise which launches into a cascade of brilliantly executed points of view. As a viewer, you are guided into each character’s world outside of the specific incident, as well as getting a glimpse inside their personal trauma, drama and sometimes closely held beliefs and secrets. As such, the viewer too make assumptions and just as one believes they have worked things out as far as who’s right and wrong; who is the victim and who are the perpetrators. But then a twist, a turn presenting an ever so slightly shift in  perspective… although the characters remain the same.

Every actor, every performance is utterly moving and effective, especially the two young leads, but the film’s stars are the editing by director, Kore-eda and the writing by Yuki Sakamoto. To take the viewers almost seamlessly from one point of view to the next without announcing the change and without confusing or losing us, is no small feat, and in the hands of a lesser talent, could have been a mind boggling disaster. Instead, “Monster,” which is drawing comparisons to Kurwosawa’s “Rashomon,” is tender and complex; smart and nuanced without being pretentious. As it unfolds, it gently nudges audience active participation by mentally putting together the cinematic puzzle laid out before them and navigate social constructs. “Monster” is not only one of the best movies of this year, but one of the best movies period. Director Kore-eda Hirokazu, known for previously critically acclaimed films “Shoplifters” and “The Brokers,” has just delivered his masterpiece.

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