Monster : Austin Film Festival Review

October 31, 202390/1005 min
Starring
Sakura Ando, Eita Nagayama, Soya Kurokawa, Hinata Hiiragi
Written by
Yüjii Sakamoto
Directed by
Hirokazu Koreeda
Run Time
2h 6min
Release Date
Overall Score
Rating Summary

             Stories are like puzzles, when you are missing a piece, it can never be completed. For example, when there are multiple people involved in something, there also comes with it different perspectives, all driven by their own reasons. Celebrated filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda’s latest entry, Monster, sets Rashomon in an elementary school and delivers the results you have come to expect from a Koreeda-directed film.

The story takes place in a city on the water, where Saori (Sakura Ando) and her son Minato (Soya Kurokawa) live a pretty quiet life. Sakura is doing her best at raising her son after his father died not too long ago. Minato, though, has started acting a little off. After some questions from his mother, she finds out that his teacher, Mr. Hori (Eita Nagayama), seems to be picking on him. That ‘picking on’ includes grabbing him and even striking his nose, as well as name-calling. Saori is not having that and wants the school to do something about it, but the school seems more interested in its reputation than Minato. Things only seem to get worse, but this is not the whole story. Another missing piece is Minato’s friend Yori (Hinata Hiragi), who is being picked on at school by other kids. When the boys are alone, Minato is Yori’s friend, but fearing the other boys’ reactions, tells Yori not to talk to him at school. Yori and Minato’s story is yet just another piece of a larger story.

Written by Yugi Sakamoto, Monster is the first movie since 1995 that Koreeda didn’t both write and direct. The story, told in three parts, each providing a different perspective and narrative focus on the same event. These three stories are woven together and gradually reveal what really ignited the story, while changing your judgments of the characters. The first part questions the abuse of power in education and the lies that are told for self-protection. The next segment focuses on the devastating consequences of bullying, which sets up the final section that explores relationships, friendships, and forgiveness. The magic of these three different sides of the same story only adds to making it all feel complete, without making the other parts disappear. All of it is set to a beautiful piano score by the late Ryuichi Sakamoto that only makes the final frame resonate even more.

Monster is simply a work of art, as its story of friendships and a world that can be tender but also cruel unfolds before our eyes. The performances are good, but it’s Hiragi and Kurokawa who stand out as they manage to preserve their childlike innocence all while enduring the dramatic change of their characters. It is their segment where Monster nears its soul, as the true nature of their relationship is revealed. When the final package comes together, there is no feeling of a requirement to tie everything together neatly in a bow. It instead rewards the viewer with a complete puzzle that, while it might take a little time to put together, it’s so satisfying by the end.

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