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  • Writer's pictureJamie

Monster - Review

I have been burned by following film’s festival runs before, but Monster takes the cake for the longest I have waited to see a film after hearing about its premiere at Sundance 2023. I have painfully missed every other opportunity to see Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Monster early, another layer of building expectation with each passing screening. Now that it has finally released, it could no longer evade me, and I booked the centre seats in Fulham Road Picturehouse and strapped in. I was determined to know nothing about the film after my initial interest peaked last year, so only went in knowing that it had been described as a psychological dramatic mystery thriller which truly lets you into what a journey this film is going to take you on. 

Monster has a lot of complexity to it, some aspects which I am still piecing together and thinking over, but I was bowled over by this film, in a way that I have not felt in a long time. 

This film is about a lot of things, all going in on the background of a story of perspective. We watch events play out three times, all giving us more context as we watch them happen. For me, I was more emotionally connected, confused and given more clarity all at once with each retelling. Monster sucked me in from the beginning with its intriguing and vague premise, not spelling out much of its actions. It then gives you some elements to latch on to, where you form opinions on its characters and log events in your head. With a sudden shift, we’re thrust back in for a second retelling where those opinions and grasp on the story gets shuffled and muddled, where you form new opinions and a new understanding. Finally, we’re told it again, shaking up those almost solidified opinions for one last time. This final time is more extended and reaches further into the emotional depth of the film, deeping the connections between characters and revealing more of who each of them are. 

I’d like to be brief with the plot of this film as it has a lot in it and I could go on for way too long about it. 

Minato (Soya Kurokawa) is in fifth grade, and is a little off balance when we first meet him, cutting his hair by himself, having some mud in his water bottle and claiming that he is a human with a pig brain, crying out and calling himself a monster. We learn that these changes and lashing out may have stemmed from the treatment he is receiving from one of his teachers, Mr. Hori (Eita Nagayama). In our first segment of the film, we’re locked in with Minato and his mother, Saori’s (Sakura Andô) perspective. The following two acts of the film reveal more context and meanings behind each aspect of oddity, deepening the meaning of the story. 

I mentioned being confused at times with the story, I feel like that comes with such a dense story, one that offers up many ideas to be thought over and figured out. This film isn’t abstract necessarily or inaccessible, it just poses a few elements that may not be obvious initially. With my dive into all types of films in the past two years, I have changed my mind that a good film should make sense immediately to a viewer. Having gone back to some of the classics (not all I enjoy), I think a lot of highly regarded films have these thought provoking elements that stick with you beyond the screening, letting you come up with your own ideas, and I think that is a special thing to do with films. 

The performances from all characters are spectacular in this film, completely transcending language barriers so much that I feel like I could understand the emotions of the film just through their portrayal. In particular, both Kurokawa and Hinata blew me away with how they showcased the intimacy and awkwardness of this childhood friendship. 

I have spoken about this in my review for Close, a 2022 film by Lukas Dhont, which explores similar concepts of the complexities of childhood friendships, and in particular, for boys.There is a closeness shared by both Minato and Yori (Hinata Hiiragi). The ease of their connection is down to the writing, environment and their performances. Of course, it is a lot to do with the direction in this aspect, creating an environment on set that allows the actors to bond and grow this connection that we then get to see on screen. 

The bond comes with turmoil, which adds a layer to their performances, which also allows the supporting cast to shine. I was impressed by everyone in the film, with Sakura as Saori really shining for me. I was also impressed with Yûko Tanaka playing the principal of the school. Her progression through the three perspectives revealed a lot about her character which I appreciated. 

Monster not only shines in its story and performances but also brings a lot of strong technical aspects to the table with a beautiful score that Ryuichi Sakamoto contributed. He composed two original piano pieces which he unfortunately did not have the physical strength to continue with. These two tracks were submitted alongside a catalogue of music. Kore-eda dedicated the film to him and his work. 

The camera work is impactful in its presentation, the film has a softness to it, with a grainy and often warm look to it, even in the down moments. There is a lot of care into shot setup and choice that blends perfectly with the editing in order to create impactful bonds between characters. 

I often think those elements get overlooked in the overall feel of the film, often we look to the story and script to create emotion, but the technical elements add so much to the creation that it does truly make or break a film. For me, this film is the total package, beginning emotion, intrigue and intelligence to the screen. While I was a little concerned at the beginning for how much i was going to connect, the second and third acts of the film brought so much in their way of connecting to the first that it is hard to deny this film as a masterpiece in numerous ways. 


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