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Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda
Produced by Hijiri Taguchi, Tatsumi Yoda, Minami Ichikawa, Kenji Yamada, Megumi Banse, Taichi Itô, Ryo Ota, Kiyoshi Taguchi, and Hajime Ushioda
Written by Yuji Sakamoto
With: Sakura Andô, Eita Nagayama, Soya Kurokawa, Hinata Hiiragi, Mitsuki Takahata, Akihiro Kakuta, Shidô Nakamura, and Yûko Tanaka
Cinematography: Ryûto Kondô
Editing: Hirokazu Koreeda
Music: Ryûichi Sakamoto
Runtime: 127 min
Release Date: 02 June 2023
Aspect Ratio: 2.39 : 1
Color: Color

The latest from Hirokazu Kore-eda is somewhat of a departure for the Japanese master of humanist dramas about unconventional families. Working from a script not penned himself for the first time since his feature debut, the prolific director's Monster starts in a way that feels typical of his work in style and subject. Sakura Andō (one of the stars of Kore-eda's masterpiece Shoplifters) plays a widowed mother whose young son Minato (Sōya Kurokawa) has started to act out in strange ways. Suspecting that the issues may be the result of abuse from a teacher at Minato's school, she confronts the teacher, the principal, and the school administrators, who all refuse to give her satisfactory answers. But what starts as a domestic drama about a courageous mother's fight against a school system that puts its fear of litigation ahead of the wellbeing of its students soon turns into something entirely different.

The film, written by playwright and screenwriter Yuji Sakamoto, unfolds like a multi-perspective mystery in which each character is given their due. The nonlinear approach is more Tarantino than Kurasawa. This is not a movie where different characters give us conflicting accounts of the same events. Instead, the story and themes are folded and unfolded for us as we slowly come to understand the lived experiences of a small handful of characters who inhabit the same general space at roughly the same time. The various narrative threads end up in an unexpected place, and while the outcome feels unsatisfying in terms of all we've been shown before, it also transcends everything that's led up to what it reveals.

I've never been a fan of generic single-word movie titles, but in this case, the picture's name, with all its negative or frightening implications, cleverly primes the audience to think the worst about pretty much every character we meet. Consciously or unconsciously, we start trying to guess who the titular "monster" is. This impulse is almost impossible for a viewer not to engage in, especially when a film is told in an elliptical style. Kore-eda and Sakamoto harness audience expectations, biases, and conditioning to make us examine the often thoughtless and harmful assumptions we make about people, especially young people.

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The prolific Hirokazu Kore-eda and writer Yuji Sakamoto invert audience expectations, biases, and conditioning in this elliptical drama about a young boy, his mother, his teacher, and his close friend.