Monster review – Hirokazu Kore-eda’s hydra of modern morals and manners

Japanese director Kore-eda offers a deliberately dense but ultimately hopeful examination of how to negotiate family dysfunction with intelligence and humanity

Hirokazu Kore-eda challenges us with intricacy and complexity in this family drama about bullying, homophobia, family dysfunction, uncritical respect for flawed authority, and social media rumour-mongering; all working together to create a monster of wrongness. Kore-eda is collaborating with screenwriter Yûji Sakamoto and the late composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, whose score creates a layer of nuance and meaning. Its plangent, sad piano chords will often counterintuitively be added to a scene of apparent drama or tension, implying that the meaning of this scene has not yet been disclosed. Monster is a movie that does not render up its meanings easily in general, and its repeated motif is to replay the same events from a different viewpoint; in another type of film this might deliver the smooth and gratifying narrative click of a twist-reveal falling into place, but here it has a way of raising more questions than answers.

The action begins with a building burning to the ground, a dramatic blaze against the night sky, and this spectacular event makes a convenient starting point when the action is replayed. The building is the site of a sleazy hostess-bar, and a scandalous rumour runs around that local schoolteacher Mr Hori (Eita Nagayami) was one of the customers. Single mum Saori (Sakura Ando) has heard this tale and is thus perhaps already disposed to think ill of the man; her son Minato (Soya Kurokawa) then comes home from school saying that Mr Hori has humiliated him with a bizarre “pig brain” insult (or has Minato appropriated that insult from elsewhere?) and the teacher also appears to have hit him.

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