MONSTER (怪物) (2023)

Genre: Drama
Director: Kore-eda Hirokazu
Cast: Ando Sakura, Nagayama Eita, Kurokawa Soya, Hiiragi Hinata, Tanaka Yuko
Runtime: 2 hr 6 mins
Rating: M18 (Some Mature Content)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Official Website: 

Opening Day: 22 June 2023

Synopsis: When her young son Minato starts to behave strangely, his mother feels that there is something wrong. Discovering that a teacher is responsible, she storms into the school demanding to know what’s going on. But as the story unfolds through the eyes of mother, teacher and child, the truth gradually emerges. 

Movie Review:

The introductory scene sets off in pitch black darkness with faint cicada chirping in the background and an over-the-shoulder shot of what seems to be a child holding a lighter, setting the absolute tone for the rest of the intricately ominous plot. The scene that has everyone questioning gets interrupted by the siren wails piercing through the night, while Minato (Soya Kurokawa) and his mum, Saori (Sakura Ando), watches on from a safe distance.

Monster officially unfolds with the dramatic blaze of a sleazy hostess bar, which is also the starting point where the action is replayed later on throughout the movie. Rumours of Mr. Hori (Eita Nagayama), the local school teacher being present at the bar runs amok and widowed mum, Saori, who is perhaps predisposed to think ill of men who visit such places, hears it too. Their day-to-day life takes a sharp swerve with bizarre events that doesn't quite scream of anomaly but slowly builds up on the mystery when Minato starts acting strange.

The opening chapter features Saori a single mum who gives her all to be there for her pre- teen child, Minato. Saori’s quest for answers to her 11-year-old son’s peculiar behaviour is echoed with more questions when she barges into the principal’s office (which becomes an almost daily affair) as she is greeted with stonewalling and stilted apologies. The powerful, seethe-inducing scenes that play out at the school, makes one wonder if it is just a case of inexplicable bureaucratic politesse or the normalising of sinister events to be conveniently swept under the rug, especially in institutional bodies such as schools and professional environment.

While the institution goes big on damage control, feisty Saori acts on the contrary to seek answers to her son’s recent uncanny shift in behaviour. As the narrative peels away, we are led to the kernel of despairing truth. Each time the film takes us back to the fateful night of the blaze, it hits almost like a sigh of relief, after going back and forth with finger-pointing of ‘he did it, they did it’, which effectively blurs the truth.

Alleviating the parental urgency off the plot, the second chapter which is devoted to Mr. Hori and his life outside of school, surprisingly offers another dimension to his character as a teacher that was briefly villainised. Be forewarned as it might strike a chord of self-reproach for a split second since we did, at some point in time, believe that teachers were put on this earth exclusively to teach us and go back home straight to an abyss of grading papers before calling it a day. Eita Nagayama innocently yet elegiacally portrays the life of a teacher and how life is on the ‘other’ side, beyond classrooms. Mr Hori’s character is made to seen special in a way since it is introduced through word of mouth instead of a pleasantly direct introduction, which also means that the audience gets to know Mr Hori without actually knowing him.

We then get to see more of the boys’ relationship, or rather bromance, that is gestated in a secret abandoned railway carriage in the depths of a local wilderness where they live happily (ever after) in a bubble of their own. With themes such as self-harming, bullying, broken homes, abused children, and crimes of innocence, this thriller written by Yuji Sakamoto is more so about the monsters that live in each one of us and conditioned by inner turmoil triggered by external events.

As much as the retelling of events that takes us back to the night of arson replayed over and over again starts to feel a little humdrum, it allows the 126-minute film to organically progress at its own pace, with conflicting perspectives thrown in to bring about a necessary shift to the plot. Each version compels us to see the subject as a victim of life and its circumstances, thus offering textured standpoints.

With gradual accruing of the details, when the plot initially unfolds in Saori and Minato’s stance, Mr. Hori is easily seen as the titular monster. As the tale unravels through Mr. Hori’s eyes, Saori’s character is grimaced upon as the Monster. In the same vein, as the film hones in on Minato and his relationship with Yori, the plot is experienced with fresh eyes and a spanking new perspective is born. Now, that’s the underlying magic of Monster which is yet another representation of love, rejection, friendship and shame dwelling so often on the same continuum.

The soundtrack comprising of the late composer, Ryuchi Sakamoto’s new and older material, lends an added poignancy, especially with the ricocheting piano chords that symbolically implies that the scene isn’t over and there’s just more to it than meets the eye.

Monster may not be the best of Palme d’Or winner, Hirokazu Kore-eda ‘s works as it arguably seems contrived and it could have been a little less denser in adding layers of mystery. The easy-paced contemplative narrative takes a nosedive on the re-watchability factor, given the absence of shockers, twists and elements that will actually keep us inching closer to the edge of our seats.

Sadly enough, despite the narrative arc of a melodrama, certain scenes that potentially could be the set-pieces have been truncated. There’s this intensely poignant scene in which a conversation between the principal of the elementary school and Minato, the preteen in turmoil would transpire. And Fushimi Makiko (Yuko Tanaka) will teach him how to tap into the curative powers of the trumpet to ‘resolve’ his problems. “Whatever you can’t tell anyone, blow it away.” There are quite a number of powerful scenes in this convoluted portrait that could have been accentuated. Thankfully, the mitigating feature is the child-eye’s perspective that is made to be more prevailing and this, in turn, throws in a rich and rewarding contrast when compared to the tales and secrets revealed through the eyes of the adults involved. The sequence of the conflicting perspectives chosen to have the story told is somewhat commendable. Soya Kurokawa (Minato) and Hinata (Yori) Hiiragi deliver excellent performances as the affected kids in Monster, rousing us from a deep slumber to a worrying reality that there are countless other Minatos and Yoris out there who are actually deprived of a more deserving childhood.

Movie Rating:



(Another perpetrator-victim based plot that allows all to connect to the other side of the coin with this emotionally tender narrative of flawed authority, broken homes, bullying and homophobia that runs in a loop in Rashomon fashion)

Review by Asha Gizelle Mariadas


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