Dir: Kore-eda Hirokazu | Cast: Sakura Andô, Eita Nagayama, Soya Kurasawa, Hinata Hiiragi, Mitsuki Takahata | Japan Drama 126′
This study of classroom bullying, and childhood trauma is not one of Kore-eda’s best films, and never reaches the emotional heights of Our Little Sister or Like Father, Life Son. But after a choppy first hour Monster eventually comes together as a stirring drama about the benefits of friendship and imagination. The film also deals with the controversy of parent versus teacher in an educational environment where increasingly staff are having to take responsibly for often false accusations in order to keep the peace and avoid PTA reprisals.
Minato (Kuokawa) lives with his widowed mother Saori (Ando) in the Japanese coastal city of Suwa. The climate here is extreme and frequent downpours and typhoons provides the story with its often stormy atmosphere that mirrors the emotional state of this troubled but tightly-knit couple who we first meet watching a blazing fire from the balcony of their family flat.
Minato has a new teacher called Mr. Hori (Eita Nagayama), and their controversial relationship gives the story a sinister undertow when the boy starts behaving strangely. Clearly something it going on but Kore-eda keeps us guessing in a series of rather other sequences. It soon emerges than the boy has been injured by Mr Hori after an incident at school. Saori wants answers but they are not forthcoming, the staff and Mrs Fushimi (Tanaka), the reserved head mistress, merely bow and express their deep regret in Japanese style.
The focus then turns to Minato’s relationship with another student, Yori (Hinata Hiragi) whose father, a single parent, appears to be off the rails. From then on, sharing their past traumas the boys form an indelible bond as the story gradually turns into a affectionate buddy movie where the two of them scamper around in the summery fields and explore an abandoned train which becomes their hideout and a place to escape to and enjoy a sense of adventure and fantasy.
Complimented by a soothig score from late Ryuichi Sakamoto Monster often feels like a film in two halves, the second being the most satisfying and enjoyable and exuding Kore-eda signature tenderness and his skill for working with children. The seasoned director elicits some really stunning naturalistic performances from the entire cast. Yoko Tanaka is probably the most impressive as the stylishly elegant Mrs Fushimi, the epitome of discretion but always with a twinkle in her eye.
CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2023