THE STORY – A mother demands answers from teacher when her son begins acting strangely.
THE CAST – Ando Sakura, Nagayama Eita, Kurokawa Soya & Hiiragi Hinata
THE TEAM – Hirokazu Kore-eda (Director) & Yûji Sakamoto (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 126 Minutes
Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda has shown through his film catalog that he innately understands the highs and lows of humanity. He uncovered the secrets hiding behind closed doors in his Palme d’Or winning “Shoplifters” and showed how people from all walks of life can come together and form a lovable, albeit dysfunctional, family in “Broker.” Unsurprisingly, his latest Cannes entry, “Monster,” deals with many of the good and bad things that make us all human again. This time, however, he slowly reveals all his cards with a “Rashomon” style story. With three perspectives intertwined in this two-hour film, the director uncovers a grand tale of secrets, lies, and friendship that strikes at the core.
It all starts with a massive building fire, with one level dedicated to a hostess bar, that has the entire city looking at the flames, including widowed mother Saori (Ando Sakura) and her son Minato (Kurokawa Soya). Their quiet life also starts to disintegrate when Minato begins acting strange one day. He doesn’t want to get out of bed, cuts his hair, and wanders around strange places at night. It raises plenty of red flags for Saori until she learns that he was struck by a teacher at school and was told he has a pig’s brain. She storms into the principal’s office to get answers. While the school apologizes, no one seems interested in getting to the bottom of the incident or punishing Hori (Nagayama Eita), the teacher in question. Even as more violent incidents occur, it all seems to fall on deaf ears, but Saori, played passionately by Sakura, doesn’t let up her protective motherly ways.
But that’s just one side of the story that screenwriter Yûji Sakamoto has in store. Sequences that have already been seen, such as the building fire or bullying incidents, get relayed through Hori, Minato, and his friend Yori’s (Hiiragi Hinata) eyes later on, giving us a more in-depth idea of what really happened. Lies and secrets are uncovered, a rumor that’s spread about Hori gets its origin, and bullying of all kinds is seen. The screenwriter’s attention to detail is so precise that even a sound that might not seem important in one act gets revisited in another. But most importantly, by giving each character a dedicated act, Sakamoto manages to flesh out many other players in this story entirely, even Principal Fushimi (Tanaka Yuko) and the many tragedies in her life.
A standout among these different perspectives is the beautiful relationship between Minato and Yori, reminiscent of last year’s Grand Prix winner “Close,” although not as tender. The two youngsters give wonderful performances as they force the difficult subject matters involving one’s sexuality, stigma, bullying, and trauma. As a whole, Kore-eda’s cast brings each character to life by embodying their ups and downs, like Hori’s desperate attempts to clear his name. The visuals also serve the film well, especially when new angles reveal what one couldn’t see in a previous act. The late Ryuichi Sakamoto’s gentle score is another great element that complements the film’s overall tone.
Kore-eda delivers much of what makes his films shine on the world stage once again in “Monster” while taking each detail further and building up our emotions thanks to Sakamoto’s script. Sometimes the most beautiful stories come from everyday life and humanity, and Kore-eda’s latest continues to prove he’s a master in uncovering both the pleasantries and the uncomfortable truths of life.