The wide-ranging temporal canvas portrayed in the brilliant Japanese film Monster begins with a spectacular fire and ends with an unrelenting downpour during a monsoon. A delicate web of events that carefully weaves through the lives of three primary characters is poignantly bookended by these fundamental calamities, each carrying a unique metaphorical weight. A deep and complicated fight for understanding develops in this story as it progresses, throwing shadows over the interwoven lives of a young child, a loving mother, and a committed teacher. The dramatic opening acts as a trigger, causing a chain of events to ripple throughout the lives of the individuals and laying the groundwork for an engrossing investigation of human fragility and resiliency. With her unshakable dedication, the mother emerges as a pillar of strength, guiding them through the turbulent aftermath of the fire. In parallel, the young child struggles with the subtleties of his changing life, which the catastrophe’s transforming force has molded. Amid the chaos, the teacher tries to convey knowledge and understanding.
The monsoon becomes a figurative flood as the story continues, reflecting the protagonists’ inner turmoil and complexity. The characters’ search for purpose in the wake of hardship and their developing relationships are set against the backdrop of the unrelenting rain. Monster reveals the frailty of existence and the unbreakable spirit that rises from the chaos as a nuanced examination of the human condition seen through the prism of these elemental elements. Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, known for his works such as Broker and Shoplifters, and written by the gifted Yuji Sakamoto, the film deftly unfolds its story as it presents us with Minato—played by Soya Kurokawa—an astute preteen starting fifth grade. In a glance into the rich tapestry of Minato’s life, the film canvas catches the subtleties of his coming-of-age journey.
Minato’s vulnerability emerges as a key element, engrossing the viewer in the intricacies of his reality. When he returns home hurt and distraught, his single mother, Saori—played by the versatile Sakura Ando—begins to worry. It is when the story takes an unexpected turn. Saori investigates the cause of her son’s suffering as her maternal instincts take over. She finds herself accusing Mr. Hori, Minato’s teacher, in her search for answers. The teacher’s job is eventually terminated due to the mounting strain caused by Saori’s suspicions, damaging Mr. Hori’s professional reputation. The drama encourages contemplation on the brittleness of trust and the results of snap decisions. Sakamoto’s subtle screenplay and Kore-eda’s painstaking narration explore the ramifications of a solitary charge, revealing the complex webs that connect the characters.
The characters’ emotional landscapes are poignantly explored, exploring the collateral harm that results from placing blame in the wrong place. It is up to the spectator to negotiate the complexities of innocence, guilt, and the significant influence of interpersonal relationships. With each character given depth and authenticity thanks to Kore-eda’s distinctive touch, the audience can relate to their problems and challenges. Inside the confines of a family drama, he deftly weaves a tapestry of depth and subtlety in his enchanting study of the human condition. Monster goes beyond traditional narrative techniques, exploring deep-rooted societal themes like homophobia, bullying, dysfunctional families, blind obedience to faulty authority, and the dangers of spreading false rumors on social media. The convergence of these social ills creates a monstrous embodiment of wrongness, forcing us to face difficult realities about our society.
The story is given additional depth by Kore-eda’s partnership with scriptwriter Sakamoto, who creates a rich fabric that delves into the many facets of interpersonal relationships and societal dynamics. The late composer Ryuichi Sakamoto’s eerie soundtrack becomes a crucial component, immersing the film in a sonic world that gives each scene more depth and significance. Strategically placed, the sad, plangent piano chords unexpectedly heighten moments of apparent drama or tension. They also suggest that the true meaning of these sequences is hidden, encouraging viewers to continue on a journey of self-discovery. While adopting a unique storytelling method, refusing to give up its meanings easily, Monster stays away from the conventional twist-reveal in favor of a more mysterious investigation of the truth, revisiting the same events multiple times from different points of view. Instead of offering a seamless and satisfying storytelling click, this strategy purposefully leaves it with more doubts than answers. Every recounting is not meant to be a conclusion but rather a call to examine the intricacies of human nature, dispelling myths and revealing the layers of reality that are hidden from view.
The gripping story of Monster takes place against the dramatic backdrop of a building falling victim to flames’ unrelenting grasp, leaving a sinister glow in the night sky. When the complex action is played again, this amazing event—a visually arresting tableau that serves as a heartbreaking genesis. After being reduced to ashes, the mysterious structure stands as the former location of a shady hostess bar, the scandals and secrets hidden behind its walls echoed by its charred remnants. In the middle of the smoke and ashes, the neighborhood is gripped by a sensational rumor: a whisper that Mr. Hori frequented the infamous business. While the drama develops, these pernicious rumors entwine themselves with it like tendrils of smoke, raising questions about Mr. Hori’s integrity. The rumor seeps into the townspeople’s consciousness and permanently alters their perceptions.
The Web of Mistrust
Saori enters this chaos and finds herself ensnared in a web of mistrust and suspicion since she is already inclined to think poorly of Mr. Hori because of the story that is going on. A strange “pig brain” remark that Mr. Hori is said to have thrown at sensitive Minato causes the story to take an unexpected turn when he gets home. The more questions about whether Minato stole this strange slur from somewhere else or whether it stems from the teacher’s supposed wrongdoings, the more complicated things get. It skillfully crafts an array of suspense, emotion, and moral ambiguity as the story’s many threads come together. The burning structure is a metaphor for the cultural prejudices and hidden facts that come to light after a disaster, representing revelation and destruction. The community is engulfed in a ceaseless quest for justice and understanding due to the charges made against Mr. Hori.
Driven by a sense of just rage, Ando’s intense portrayal of Saori bursts into the principal’s office of the school, a mother already burdened by a thick veil of grief over her slain grandchild. She demands an explanation, her eyes burning with the fire of a mother defending her son’s honor, and the atmosphere in the room crackles. While nearly paralyzed by her grief, the principal tries to make sense of the storm that has suddenly broken into her haven. The school administration clumsily turns to an oddly formal, legalistic explanation to appease Saori. The contrived expression of regret, which includes bowing from Mr. Hori and his three associates, plays out like a dreamlike drama, with every move painstakingly planned. However, Saori’s heartfelt request for an honest and transparent explanation is met with a ritualistic declaration of regret that is completely false. The meaningless ceremony does not soothe her; on the contrary, it fuels her fury and increases her disbelief and frustration.
The atmosphere in the office is infused with a tangible unease as the tension approaches its peak. Bogged down in Mr. Hori’s inner turmoil, he eventually breaks his silence at this intensely emotional time. The appearance of formality is shattered by his murmured confession, which reveals a shocking revelation: Minato was complicit in the bullying of another child. The already tense situation is further clouded by the disclosure, which lingers like a thick fog. When the layers of the story are lifted, the narrative takes an unexpected turn that reveals the raw wounds of deceit and weakness. When Saori learns of her son’s deeds, she is overcome with contradictory feelings, from sadness to skepticism. The principal, a victim of her tragedy, stands by helplessly while the intricacies of human nature are revealed to her, making a lasting impression on the school community.
In Monster, the interesting charge of Minato’s involvement in bullying is deftly woven into the story, with proof and contradiction tantalizingly oscillating at different points. The film skillfully tells the story of several classroom occurrences from several perspectives using flashbacks and switching points of view. The assertion’s validity is left in a precarious balance due to this cinematic trick that manipulates the audience’s perception by obfuscating the distinction between truth and interpretation. The relationship between the boys takes center stage as the story’s layers are revealed. The boys’ shared haven fosters this bond, an abandoned train car that may be imagined romantically and is tucked away in the surrounding urban wilderness. In addition to deftly chipping away at the children’s apparent innocence to expose a hidden potential for violence, resentment, and even self-harm, the grownups entangled in the web of the children’s secret world experience a nauseating haze of terror as a result of this discovery.
A Risky Game of Deceit
With this drama playing out in the background, the teachers are caught up in a risky game of deceit. They try to hide something that could damage the institution’s reputation to preserve their professional standing. Tension is high at the school as the teachers struggle with the moral decision to keep their noses out of possible scandals rather than face the hard truths brewing beneath the surface. Concurrently, a worried parent arises as a counterforce to the school’s denial, trying to uncover the truth. Driven by an unwavering quest for fairness and comprehension, this father tries to sift through the layers of illusion and reveal an astounding and maybe horrifying reality. This dissimilarity serves as the story’s focal point. It creates a dynamic interaction between those who want to hide the disturbing truth and those who are trying to uncover it.
Known for his skillful examination of family relations, Kore-eda emphasizes his perceptive yet nuanced approach in Monster. The film takes a more schematic approach at first than is typical of Kore-eda, unveiling the story in a triptych format. However, even under this framework, there is a deep joy to be had because his signature low-key naturalism and the rich complexity of the screenplay blend in perfectly. The story can develop in multiple layers thanks to the triptych framework, similar to an artistic painting with three separate panels. As Minato jokingly claims that his brain has been replaced with a pig’s, the film’s first section presents an intriguing element of science fiction. However, the second segment seamlessly pivots, embracing a tone reminiscent of Kafka. This story’s progression demonstrates Kore-eda’s versatility as she deftly switches between genres to create a work of fiction that is difficult to classify.
Amidst the genre-bending narrative, a unique delight flows from the harmonious combination of the screenplay’s complex structure and Kore-eda’s skillful direction. Authenticity is infused into the story by the director’s dedication to depicting the subtleties of human relationships with a low-key naturalism. Each scene has an emotional profundity that goes beyond the bounds of traditional narrative, enticing viewers to examine the characters’ inner lives critically. As the plot progresses, the film takes audiences on a journey through Minato’s point of view, an investigation that unveils the essential truths at the core of the story. Through painstaking dissection, Kore-eda removes the layers of illusion and perception, revealing to the audience the characters’ profound metamorphosis and newfound comprehension of reality.
With painstaking attention to detail and an affecting soundtrack by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Monster becomes a cinematic masterpiece that stands out among the year’s best films. Sakamoto’s contribution heightens the film’s emotional impact and creates a musical background that stays in viewers’ hearts long after the credits have rolled. It is important to note that Sakamoto’s death in March gives the film a deeper level of poignancy and turns his score into a timeless and spectral tribute to his creative legacy. The film’s story is revealed through a structure that is as multi-layered as the secrets that its cast of people keeps hidden. With meticulous attention to detail, every frame draws viewers into a world in which secrets are gradually revealed over time rather than being revealed abruptly. The film’s thoughtful pacing shows how much the director believes the audience can follow along patiently and sympathetically, taking the viewer from light amusement to a deep examination of the human condition.
Monster essentially questions the tendency to call someone a monster without first walking a mile in their shoes. The narrative premise of the film is that genuine comprehension necessitates tolerance, compassion, and recognition of the complex network of events that mold each character’s path. As snap decisions based on outward appearances give way to a more nuanced understanding of the underlying complexity, the film’s cast of characters turns into a microcosm of the larger human experience. It turns out to be a revelation that defies first perceptions, as its story deftly reveals an emotional kernel of truth by peeling away layers of distracting misgivings. What at first look could appear to be a simple story develops into a complex examination of the human condition, dispelling stereotypes and providing a narrative journey beyond hopelessness to conclude with a message of optimism.
Human Spirit’s Resiliency
The film’s capacity to defy expectations and pull apart the false veil surrounding its characters and story gives it such transformative power. While the layers of distracting misconceptions are gradually removed, Monster becomes a monument to the human spirit’s resiliency and its potential for redemption. We are led through an account maze in which the characters’ true emotional core is progressively revealed, enabling a sincere bond with them and their profound experiences. The emotional intensity of the film is greatly enhanced by the performances. The boys, along with Ando and Nagayama, are young performers who bring quiet honesty and integrity to their parts, enhancing the storytelling’s authenticity. The picture gains layers of emotional depth from their nuanced representations of characters struggling with morality, empathy, and the consequences of their actions.
Monster rises above its structural complexities, even though the story may be deemed artificial and has an excessively intricate web of mystery. This film is a wonderful example of artistry, showcasing an extraordinary level of technical proficiency and a remarkable degree of moral knowledge and humanity. It transforms into a comprehensive investigation of the human condition by transcending the limitations of traditional storytelling. Rather than being a barrier, the plot’s complexities become a means of exploring the deepest recesses of human nature. In addition, it encourages viewers to think critically and introspectively by guiding them through the story’s complexities and getting them to consider the moral nuances that shape our existence; the film pushes the boundaries of conventional filmmaking, providing an immersive and thought-provoking experience that goes beyond simple entertainment and forces audiences to consider the moral implications of the story.
- Dhar, D. (2024). Monster (2023) Movie Ending and Themes Explained: What happened to Minato and Yori?. High On Films.
- Jenkins, M. (2023). From filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda, a multiheaded ‘Monster’. The Washington Post.
- Winkelman, N. (2023). ‘Monster’ Review: Three Perspectives, One Truth. The New York Times.